GALESBURG, Ill. — President Barack Obama tried to steer the nation’s attention back to his stewardship of an improving economy with a high-profile speech that took credit for a comeback but warned against persistent “inequality of opportunity” and fights over the federal budget that could undo progress.
Speaking from a college gymnasium in this beleaguered town in western Illinois, Obama issued his sunniest description yet of the state of the economy and praised Americans’ “resilience” in the face of diminished income, a sluggish job market and a widening gap between rich and poor.
After years of being careful not to prematurely celebrate a recovery, Obama seemed ready to mark a moment.
“Today, five years after the start of that Great Recession, America has fought its way back,” Obama said. “As a country, we’ve recovered faster and gone further than most other advanced nations in the world.”
Economists agree the U.S. is gaining ground with resilient job growth and growing investor confidence. But a large share of the new jobs this year have come in lower-paying businesses, and analysts question whether the economy can sustain the rate of growth as the year wears on.
The speech — to be followed by another later Wednesday — offered broad, familiar themes, only hinting at specific policy actions to come. Obama said he would outline details in future remarks this week and vowed to use his executive authority whenever possible to override the Republican opposition that has thwarted much of his economic agenda for the last two years.
“With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop,” Obama said. “Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires.”
The speech was an attempt to revive a populist economic message that helped propel Obama to re-election but has recently faded from view, crowded out by months of unexpected and unwelcome news on other fronts. Controversial leak investigations, wariness about the economy, a stalled immigration bill and general public surliness directed at Washington have taken a toll on the president’s approval rating and blunted his brief post-election momentum.