WASHINGTON - Keeping the American dream alive has become "the defining issue of our time," President Barack Obama says. He's using tonight's State of the Union address to draw a stark election-year line with Republicans over how to keep the United States from eroding further into a nation of haves and have-nots.
In excerpts of his speech released in advance, Obama attacked income inequality and offered his own economic revival plan built upon boosting manufacturing, energy and education. He warned Republicans in Congress that he will fight them if they try to obstruct him or restore an economy gutted by "outsourcing, bad debt and phony financial profits."
Driving everything about the speech: Jobs, including Obama's own. He was essentially making his case for re-election as he spelled out where he wants to take the country.
Obama was making his pitch to a bitterly divided Congress and to a country underwhelmed by his handling of the economy. Targeting anxiety about a slumping middle class, Obama was calling for the rich to pay more in taxes. Every proposal was to be underlined by the idea that hard work and responsibility still count.
"No debate is more important," Obama said in the excerpts released by the White House ahead of the 5 p.m. AST speech.
"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules," the president said.
By BEN FELLER