From Obama’s perspective, this narrative has its advantages. In the face of Republican claims that his policies have failed to revive the economy, Obama is turning the blame on the Republicans themselves. Instead of arguing that his policies have succeeded in keeping the recession from being worse—an argument that could easily sound defeatist—Obama is implicitly conceding that his economic recovery strategy has failed, but laying the responsibility at the feet of the party trying to unseat him. His narrative also lets him insist that the Republican nominee is not a fresh face with fresh ideas, but rather a reincarnation of the people who destroyed the economy in the first place.
The fuzziness comes when Obama tries to explain how exactly the Republicans created this mess. In Kansas, he took aim at “you’re on your own” economics, which, as he noted, has been a critique progressives have been leveling since Theodore Roosevelt’s day. But while that may be a plausible summary of the policies that have been hurting middle-class Americans for decades now, it doesn’t really capture the policies that contributed to the financial crisis. The financial crisis wasn’t primarily about rampant individualism. If it had been, the Wall Street bankers who gambled away billions would have, as individuals, paid the price. Instead, after profiting individually when the market went up, they forced the rest of the country to save them when the market went down. The financial crisis was an example of what happens when the richest Americans are allowed to practice “you’re on your own” economics when it suits them but demand that everyone else bail them out when it doesn’t.