President Barack Obama called economic fairness “the defining issue of our time” in his State of the Union address Tuesday, casting himself as a defender of middle-class Americans and setting the agenda for his reelection campaign.

“It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody,” Obama told a joint session of Congress. “Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same.”

The election-year address gave Obama a high-profile platform to counter the GOP presidential candidates who have been pummeling him, virtually unanswered, for months. That included defending his support of Warren Buffett’s proposal that his secretary should not be taxed at a higher rate than he is.

“You can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense,” Obama said.

After touting accomplishments such as the end of the war in Iraq, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the successful restructuring of General Motors, Obama shifted to his main message, picking up the economic inequality themes first sketched out in his Teddy Roosevelt-channeling speech in Osawatomie, Kan., last month: an economy where each American “gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same set of rules.”

The president stood before a sharply divided Congress and asserted that he “will work with anyone in this chamber” to improve the economy, but he won’t stand for obstructionism. “I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place,” he warned.

via Obama State of the Union speech: ‘No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts’ – Jennifer Epstein –