By Sam Youngman - 08/12/11 01:53 AM EDT
Looking to both inspire disaffected supporters and tap into the momentum that has propelled the Tea Party, President Obama has turned sharply from hoping to change Washington to blaming the city for the nation's stalled economic recovery.
The president's new message, rolled out at both a public event in Michigan and a New York City fundraiser on Thursday, takes direct aim at Congress as the reason the economic recovery has stalled.
Obama came out of one of the darker periods of his administration, the days following the almost universally despised debt deal followed by both a credit-rating downgrade and a tragic turn of events in Afghanistan, unleashing his disgust and declaring, "our system is broken."
"And that gridlock has undermined public confidence and impeded our efforts to take the steps we need for our economy," Obama said. "It’s made things worse instead of better."
The president added what was unmistakably a new economic theme and reelection message: "There is nothing wrong with our country. There is something wrong with our politics."
Obama's new fire came as much of the Republican presidential field made the traditional rounds of Iowa before a debate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry made clear his intentions to get in the race this weekend.
With the president, sleeves rolled up, going on offense amid continuing economic uncertainty in a swing state, the 2012 presidential election seemed to get an unofficial start on Thursday.
Obama's day included a more relaxed retelling of his message from Michigan at a star-studded fundraiser in Manhattan, where the president said that Washington had "reached a low-water point."
But, the president said, that the anger that resulted from the July standoff over the debt ceiling meant that "the public suddenly realized … we are going to have to get engaged.”
That kind of anger and engagement could help Obama's campaign team solve any enthusiasm problems they might encounter from young, first-time voters from 2008 who have been disillusioned during the president's messy two-and-a-half years of governing.
“If that energy is harnessed and tapped, I am absolutely convinced this country is going to be on the upswing in the next couple of years,” Obama said.
To that end, the president included in his message in Michigan a charge he issued in the waning days of the debt-ceiling debate, challenging Americans to put pressure on Congress.
"And if you agree with me — it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican or an independent — you’ve got to let Congress know," Obama said. "You’ve got to tell them you’ve had enough of the theatrics. You’ve had enough of the politics. Stop sending out press releases. Start passing some bills that we all know will help our economy right now. That’s what they need to do; they’ve got to hear from you."