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Obama: No More Mr. Nice Guy?

Liberals hoping for a tougher, more passionate President Obama might want to check out what he said in Detroit on Monday. Speaking in front of a General Motors plant that might be shuttered if not for his administration's policies, Obama gave a feisty, pointed speech about jobs and the economy -- and, perhaps, a hint of what's to come on Thursday, when he addresses the same topics before a joint session of Congress.

Obama told the crowd he didn't want to reveal too much of what he'll say in that speech and avoided getting overly specific on policy. But he was unusually direct about drawing contrasts with the Republicans -- and, for a change, even called them out by name.

We’re not going to wait for them. We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party. We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, do you want to create jobs? Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America. Do you want to help our companies succeed? Open up new markets for them to sell their products. You want -- you say you’re the party of tax cuts? Well then, prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans.

As that line about “oil companies and the most affluent Americans” suggests, Obama didn’t shy away from talking about class, either. He spoke of the need for “secure retirement even if you’re not rich,” establishing the “same set of rules for everybody from Wall Street to Main Street,” and restoring “middle-class security.” And in an explicit defense of unions – this was, after all, a Labor Day speech – Obama said that

having a voice on the job and a chance to organize and a chance to negotiate for a fair day’s pay after a hard day’s work, that is the right of every man and woman in America -- not just the CEO in the corner office, but also the janitor who cleans that office after the CEO goes home.

Liberals frustrated with Obama want him to do more than give one pointed speech. But, as Steve Benen notes, Obama has been inching towards these themes for the last few weeks. Maybe he’ll stick with them on Thursday night. More important, maybe he’ll stick with them in the weeks and months that follow, backing up his words with actions. It's his best chance to get meaningful action on the economy and, failing that, to give voters a clear choice for the next election.