President Obama is framing the election as a choice between competing economic visions.
In a speech at Cleveland's Cuyahoga Community College Thursday, Obama sought to explain that America's economic problems began before the 2008 financial crisis, and have their roots in a failed conservative ideology, centered on tax cuts for the rich, that has dominated Washington for over a decade.
"Governor Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory that we tried in the last decade," Obama said. "The theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down."
Obama said he offers a “different vision for America”—one based on strengthening the middle class to ensure shared prosperity.
“We can’t afford to jeopardize our future by repeating the mistakes of the past,” Obama said. “Not now. Not when there’s so much at stake.”
As he has before, Obama stressed the need for the richest Americans to pay higher taxes, in order to be able to afford to preserve programs that protect popular and crucial social programs.
"Our tax code has to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more," he said. "Just like they did when Bill Clinton was president."
And he added: "I don't believe that giving someone like Mr. Romney another huge tax cut is worth ending the guarantee of basic security we've always provided the elderly."
Less than a week after clumsily declaring that the private sector is "doing fine"—a mistake which Republicans have relentlessly sought to exploit—Obama sought to downplay the gaffe by poking fun at himself.
"Over the next five months, this election will take many twists and many turns.," he said. "Polls will go up and polls will go down. There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies that keep both campaigns busy and give the press something to write about. You may have heard I recently made my own unique contribution to that process. It won’t be the first time, it won’t be the last."
And he was eager to show he feels Americans' pain.
“Of course the economy isn’t where it needs to be," he said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. Everybody knows that." But he added that the question is over "how" to grow the economy.