It would have been better had he not spoken. Seriously. Like an aging rock star, President Obama, in a downsized venue, with downsized proposal and spewing downsized rhetoric only reminded us how far he has fallen from the heady days of 2008. The man, the agenda and the aura are faint imitations of their 2008 incarnations. And most importantly, he put forth an agenda that was entirely, and obviously, lacking, one that didn’t begin to match the demands of our time.
Even for the liberal media, it will be hard to characterize a speech this prosaic as uplifting or fresh. The crowd — you know, the people who favor abortion on demand up to birth, all paid for by the government -- were thrilled at the onset, although quiet during long stretches of the speech. On TV the speech came across in large part as flat. It was frankly not as good a speech as his wife’s.
But what did he say? Where is the argument for his re-election?
As a preliminary matter he played the victim unconvincingly. (“I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly. Trivial things become big distractions. Serious issues become sound bites. And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising. If you’re sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me – so am I.”) Since it is his own campaign that is irredeemably negative and petty he really has no claim to the high ground.
And since he previously extended the Bush tax cuts it was hard to reconcile his disdain for extending them now in an even weaker economy. (“ I don’t believe that another round of tax breaks for millionaires.” But how about for small businessmen?)
Let’s start with his $4 billion debt reduction package. Remember, Obama has added more than $5 trillion to the debt since entering office. But more to the point, the plan has already been discredited. The Post’s Glenn Kessler explained the claim to cut the debt by $4 trillion “is simply not accurate”:
By the administration’s math, you have nearly $3.8 trillion in spending cuts, compared to $1.5 trillion in tax increases (letting the Bush tax cuts expire for high-income Americans). Presto, $1 of tax increases for every $2.50 of spending cuts.
But virtually no serious budget analyst agreed with this accounting. The $4 trillion figure, for instance, includes counting some $1 trillion in cuts reached a year ago in budget negotiations with Congress. So no matter who is the president, the savings are already in the bank.
Moreover, the administration is also counting $848 billion in phantom savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the administration had long made clear those wars would end.
In other words, by projecting war spending far in the future, the administration is able to claim credit for saving money it never intended to spend. (Imagine taking credit for saving money on buying a new car every year, even though you intended to keep your car for 10 years.)
Rather than good arithmetic, independent budget analysts called the maneuver “a major budget gimmick.”
The administration also counts $800 billion in savings in debt payments (from lower deficits) as a “spending cut,” which is a dubious claim. We didn’t realize that debt payments were now considered a government program.
There are a number of other games being played, so fake money is being used to pay for real spending projects. In effect, most of Obama’s claimed deficit reduction comes from his proposed tax increases
There was a reason of course that lefty bloggers tried (unsuccessfully) to “fact check” this analysis; they saw quite clearly how devastating it would be for the man selling himself as brave and responsible to come out with a plan so puny and phony. (A helpful analysis debunking the president's plan was also put out by the Senate Budget Committee’s ranking member. “Overall, the President proposes to spend $1.4 trillion more than we would spend if no policy changes were made, meaning the President’s $1.6 trillion tax hike is used to fund new spending, not to lower deficits.”)
But that die was cast long ago. This president is not there to solve our fiscal problems. He is there to grow government.
No matter how desperately the Obama team spins, there is no getting away from this simple fact: He has no credible plan to reduce the debt or intention of attacking the drivers of debt, namely entitlement spending. For those Democrats and independents who though he would eventually get serious about our most serious problem, the answer tonight was: “Y ou’ve been had.”
What followed was one spending program after another, as if no debt crisis loomed and as if the key to jump-starting the economy were to spend more money. (Recall we have spent trillions and trillions already.) It was, to put it mildly, shockingly weak and rather dull. Before our eyes, Obama has become the anti-reformer, the defender of the status quo and the throw back to mid-20th century liberalism.
As the Romney team and the RNC were only too eager to point out in a flurry of press releases, Obama already has promised virtually every item on his 2012 wish list — in his 2008 acceptance speech. He wants to reduce unemployment and help the middle class . We are expected, he says, to be “patient.” But why give him another chance to get it right by simply doing more of the same?
When you’ve promised before to create manufacturing jobs, double exports, cut tuition in half, lessen our dependence on foreign oil and stick two million (!) people in community college and failed to do it, why should the American people believe this set of pie in the sky promises?
The speech was terribly government-centric, even for a Democrat. Obama urged the audience not to think there is a government program for all ills, but then came up with one government program after another. Does he think that adding a bunch of government programs will grow the economy? There was no hint that the economy was still anemic, millions remained unemployed and in poverty and his already huge increase in government has not brought a new age of prosperity.
However, one thing he didn’t tout, indeed he did not mention, was his signature achievement Obamacare. His finest moment can’t even be mentioned in public. Although he mischaracterized the Romney-Ryan Medicare plan as “Vouchercare”, he offered little of his own regarding reform of either Medicare or Social Security. This was political timidity of the worst kind.
But he was perhaps most disingenuous on national security. We sit on the precipice of defense cuts his own defense secretary says would be “devastating.” He then tells the crowd that the way to improve national security is to take money from defense and spend it --- excuse me — invest it on “nation-building here at home.” And he mentioned Israel in passing, but, after the events of the past week, did not identify its capital. He didn’t even both to tell Iran all options remain on the table. (“The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions.”) It was fair warning that this president intends in a second term to show all the “flexibility” he can muster — to soothe our foes.
Instead of assuring allies or warning foes he taunted Romney, accusing him of wanting to go back to the “blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.” It was nervy for the president who opposed the surge, failed to support the Green Revolution, alienated allies, told the Russian president he’d be more flexible and savaged defense spending to accuse his opponent of being naive on national security.
The Romney camp will breathe a sigh of relief. There is nothing in the speech we have not heard, nor is there any sense that Obama has grown in the job, is ready to tell his own party (let alone the public, as he claims he has done) hard truths or do what may be unpopular but is nevertheless essential. He leaves the field wide open for Mitt Romney to be the adult in the race, the responsible leader. If Romney can fully embrace that role, the presidency will be his.