The Washington Post

Obama brings facts to attack Romney and Ryan

“This is not conjecture. I am not exaggerating,” President Obama declared in a speech to the American Society of News Editors Tuesday afternoon. “These are facts.” Those lines sum up what was best about a strong speech that (along with a Romney win tonight in Wisconsin) can be seen as kicking off the general election phase of the presidential race. The president peppered his speech with facts – a few examples:

[R]esearch has shown that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run....

The income of the top 1 percent has grown by more than 275 percent over the last few decades to an average of $1.3 million a year.  But prosperity sure didn't trickle down. Instead, during the last decade we had the slowest job growth in half a century.  And the typical American family actually saw their incomes fall by about 6 percent even as the economy was growing....

In fact, that renowned liberal Newt Gingrich first called the original version of the [Ryan] budget "radical" and said that it would contribute to "right-wing social engineering."...

If this budget became law, by the middle of the century, funding for [domestic discretionary spending] would have to be cut by about 95 percent....

There is no way to get even close to $4.6 trillion in savings without dramatically reducing all kinds of tax breaks that go to middle-class families:  tax breaks for health care, tax breaks for retirement, tax breaks for homeownership.

With these points and many others, the president made the case that Ryan’s preference for tax cutting and smaller government has already failed as a catch-all solution to economic growth. And in the question and answer session, he again repeated three things every commentator needs to remember when talking about bipartisanship in Washington: Cap-and-trade was a conservative idea, the individual mandate was also a conservative idea, and not one Republican candidate would be in favor of a debt deal that had a revenues-cuts ratio of ten to one. To repeat the president’s point, these aren’t liberal interpretations; they’re the truth.

Compare Obama’s words with Paul Ryan’s budget speech two weeks ago. The moment nonpartisan groups looked at the numbers Ryan and the Heritage Foundation had cooked up, Ryan’s claims collapsed. There have been serious Republican debt proposals, but the nonpartisan vetting exposed Ryan’s program, to put it in the president’s terms, as “laughable.” And if John Boehner’s post-speech statement is any indication, don’t look for Republicans and right-wing commentators to challenge the president’s facts beyond nitpicking; instead of compiling factual counterpoints on the debt to challenge the president, Boehner’s office dredged up (to use their own attack on Obama) “partisan pot-shots” on the economy.

And by bolstering his case, the president was able to also pack more punch when he pivoted to broader arguments:

What leaders in both parties have traditionally understood is that [government] investments aren't part of some scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another…These investments benefit us all.  They contribute to genuine, durable economic growth…

It doesn't make us weaker when we guarantee basic security for the elderly or the sick or those who are actively looking for work. What makes us weaker is when fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the goods and services our businesses sell, or when entrepreneurs don't have the financial security to take a chance and start a new business.  What drags down our entire economy is when there's an ever- widening chasm between the ultrarich and everybody else.

And campaign rhetoric:

This congressional Republican budget is something different altogether.  It is a Trojan horse.  Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.  It is thinly veiled social Darwinism.

Reasonable people can disagree with the president on both arguments. That’s politics. And it’s clear that the president’s political plan is still to ride the “class warfare” horse through November. For better or for worse, Republicans aren’t ducking this fight, consciously (the Ryan budget) and unconsciously (Mitt Romney’s “humorous” story about his father firing people). Indeed, they’ve taken up a strong position on the right-wing of the debate. But that leaves the center open for the president to occupy. With both the open center and an advantage on facts, the White House should be confident of winning this fight.

James Downie is The Washington Post’s Digital Opinions Editor. He previously wrote for The New Republic and Foreign Policy magazine.

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