Obama in Kansas slams Republicans over inequality

The US and those seeking to join or remain in its middle class are facing a 'defining moment', Mr Obama said

US President Barack Obama has drawn a clear distinction between Democratic and Republican economic arguments in an address in the state of Kansas.

In Osawatomie, he echoed President Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke there in 1910, saying the US faced a "make-or-break moment for the middle class".

Mr Obama's remarks come less than month before the first Republican vote to choose a presidential nominee, in Iowa.

A Republican spokeswoman said Mr Obama was "desperately trying new slogans".

While Mr Obama has spent recent months touring the US calling for the passage of his American Jobs Act, the Kansas speech saw him depart from the specifics of that legislative plan

Instead the president offered a broader critique of key Republican ideas on how the economy can be revitalised.

"Their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. Well, I'm here to say they are wrong," Mr Obama said.

'Gaping inequality'

Making his first visit as president to Kansas - a solidly Republican state in recent presidential elections - Mr Obama slipped up right at the start of his remarks.

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He suggests he is the defender of fairness for the middle class and casts his opponents as the champions of unfair privilege”

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"It's great to be back in the state of Texas," he said, before correcting himself and using the first part of his speech to focus on his own family's Kansas roots.

While he did renew his call for Congress to pass an extension of a payroll tax cut due to expire at the end of 2011, the speech also focused on growing levels of income inequality in the US.

"This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise at the very heart of America: that this is the place where you can make it if you try," Mr Obama said.

Such inequality "distorts our democracy", he told those listening at a local high school.

President Obama's Texas-Kansas mix-up

In a nod to the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement - if not to its argument - Mr Obama told Kansas supporters that sharing responsibilities for the economy's success were not "1% values or 99% values".

"Most of the Republicans in Washington have refused, under any circumstances, to ask the wealthiest Americans to go to the same tax rates they were paying when Bill Clinton was president," he said.

Mr Obama did not limit his criticism solely to current economic debates, reaching back to the "trickle-down" theory that has long been used to rationalise tax cuts for the wealthy.

He described the idea as fundamentally flawed.

"It doesn't work. It's never worked. It didn't work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression," Mr Obama said, "It's not what led to the incredible post-war boom of the 50s and 60s. And it didn't work when we tried it during the last decade."

Republicans criticised Mr Obama on his attempts to tie the speech back to Theodore Roosevelt, saying that the 1910 speech was also about failed promises in politics and Mr Obama had failed to rebuild the economy.

In addition to his indictment of Republican economic principles, Mr Obama called for legislation that would create stronger penalties for financial firms that repeatedly violate anti-fraud laws.

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