The first national political speech I ever heard live and in person was Bill Clinton’s at the Democratic Convention in Atlanta in 1988. My permed hair, shoulder pads and I had a big old time, thanks to the color commentary afforded a few of us in the Texas press corps -- as provided
entirely by House Speaker Jim Wright’s highly expressive eyebrows.
But, proving that a) anyone can have an off night and b) everyone needs an editor, the speech itself was as flat and endless as a drive across Kansas, and the applause line of the evening was “In conclusion…”
Yes, Barack Obama, you gave a speech like that on Thursday -- and 53 minutes on a runway with no takeoff can feel even longer.
The POTUS seemed kind of down, with a manner as much at odds with the hope-and-change optimism of his ’08 run as his “Hey, it coulda been worse” ’12 message is.
He was resolute, and seemed determined not to be caught smiling, coming off as the least bit smartypants, or charming anybody, even answering a supporter’s shout, “We love you, Obama!’’ with the answer no one wants to hear: “Thank you.”
It was a wildly Bush-y speech, too, with vast stretches of blaming the guy who moved out of the White House quite a while ago now. Recriminations are never that entrancing, and it’s particularly risky for Obama, who ran last time on bringing Americans together, to be going after George W. Bush at this point. Three and a half years in, it’s depressing to hear him focusing on the hot mess he inherited.
And yet, I’ve long thought he had no choice but to do exactly that, because to do otherwise would be to leave the biggest knocks against him unanswered.
Again and again, we hear about the president’s “unprecedented spending.” But it wasn’t for a bunch of shiny new government schemes and giveaways; it was to save the auto industry, and the economy as a
“We’d be in a far deeper hole” without the bailout and stimulus is not a motto to make our little hearts race, but it does happen to be true, and he needed to lay it out as he did today:
“We were told that huge tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest Americans, would lead to faster job growth. We were told that fewer regulations, especially for big financial institutions and corporations, would bring about widespread prosperity. We were told that it was OK to put two wars on the nation’s credit card; that tax cuts would create a enough growth to pay for themselves.”
But while “corporations saw their profits soar…prosperity never trickled down to the middle class. From 2001 to 2008 we had the slowest job growth in half a century. The typical family saw their incomes halt.’’ Then, thanks to deregulation, came both the housing crash and the financial crisis, with millions of homes foreclosed and 9 million jobs lost.
Apparently, a majority of Americans do remember how we got here, because polling also strongly suggests Obama was right to go there in his speech in Cleveland: According to a just-released Gallup poll, 68 percent of Americans think George W. Bush bears responsibility for the shape the economy is in, compared to the 52 percent who pin it on Obama.
In a May poll by the Washington Post and ABC News, respondents were asked, “Who do you think is more responsible for the country’s current economic problems, Barack Obama or George Bush?” Almost half – 49 percent – said Bush, while 34 percent said Obama.
The president only breathed Bush’s name once, when referring to the “Bush tax cuts.” And the fact that Democrats have spent the last couple of years comparing 43 favorably to more conservative Republican presidential contenders does complicate Obama’s task in arguing that if Romney is elected, it will in effect be a third term for Bush.
But Romney is indeed promising more of the same deregulation and tax cuts — and did so again Thursday in a “prebuttal” to Obama’s speech. In my favorite nonsense line in either Ohio oration, Romney said he sees things the way he does “not just because I love job creators, but because I love jobs.”
“If you think things are going swimmingly,’’ the Republican said, “then he’s the guy to vote for.’’
Obama is not saying things are going “swimmingly,’’ of course. But he is arguing that we’ll be even further under water if we get the antidote promised by Romney.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors “She the People.” Follow her on Twitter at @Me lindaDC.