President Obama attempted to both empathize with the tea party movement and challenge its supporters in his most extensive comments to date about some of his most energized opposition.
“I think America has a noble tradition of being healthily skeptical about government. That’s in our DNA,” the president said at an hour-long economic town hall sponsored by CNBC Monday in Washington, D.C. “I think that’s a good thing,” he added.
“I think there’s also a noble tradition in the Republican and Democratic parties of saying that government should pay its way,” President Obama said, in recognition of the concerns about deficits and debt prominently expressed by tea party activists. “All those things, I think, are healthy,” he said.
“The problem that I’ve seen in the debate that’s been taking place and in some of these tea party events is I think they’re misidentifying sort of who the culprits are here,” the president said.
The president then went on to issue a direct challenge to the tea party.
“The challenge, I think, for the tea party movement is to identify specifically what would you do. It’s not enough just to say, get control of spending. I think it’s important for you to say, I’m willing to cut veterans’ benefits, or I’m willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits, or I’m willing to see these taxes go up,'” he said.
Mr. Obama’s remarks come on the heels of a front page New York Times story reporting on the strategic plans by the White House to tie the Republican Party as closely as possible to the more fringe elements of tea party activists. The White House pushed back against the accuracy of the specifics in the story, but President Obama’s handpicked chairman of the Democratic National Committee recently gave a speech doing his best to equate the tea party with the Republican Party.