At the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama told the country that “we can trust Barack to do what he says he’s going to do, even when it’s hard — especially when it’s hard.” On her husband’s other virtues she declared, “He doesn’t care whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or none of the above. He knows that we all love our country. And he is always ready to listen to good ideas, he is always looking for the very best in everyone he meets.”
She’s certainly entitled to the wifely prerogative of praising her husband, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us have to buy it. In fact, the two crucial qualities missing in President Obama’s first term have been political courage and bipartisan civility.
Let’s look at the courage quotient first. Obama didn’t take on entitlements. He didn’t risk incurring the wrath of his base on the stimulus, so he let Congress litter it up with a grab-bag of liberal wish-list items. He didn’t push for tax reform. He did not force his big labor allies at the United Auto Workers to give up their juicy contract, leaving GM in shakier shape and increasing the price for tax payers. And he sure didn’t push, as President George W. Bush did, for immigration reform.
For Obama there is never a time to refrain from pandering. He goes to the AARP to tell them he won’t let Medicare be touched. He goes to Hispanics and says if he had his way we would have had immigration reform. He tells women he’ll pay for their birth control, and he tells college kids he’ll pay for their education.
Compare that to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who did tackle entitlements, tax reform and spending. Ryan went to Florida in the presidential campaign to tell seniors Medicare has to change for those 55 and younger or it won’t be there for future generations. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board points out, in showing up at the AARP gathering, Ryan “didn’t soften his message that Medicare is on a path to bankruptcy if it isn’t reformed. . . . Perhaps most striking, Mr. Ryan even earned some applause when he discussed Social Security reform, including ‘slightly raising the retirement age over time and slowing the growth of benefits for those with higher incomes.’”
Despite the media’s conveniently inaccurate memories, Ryan accepted the need for more revenue (through tax reform) to address our fiscal crisis. Obama clings to the notion if you just tax the super-rich we can keep up the level of domestic spending he’s championed. Ryan, beginning in 2007, has championed Medicare and Social Security reform to ensure long-term solvency of those plans; Obama never has.
As for the civility part and the willingness to take his opponents ideas, Obama’s record is entirely at odds with his wife’s description. This is the president who accused Republicans of wanting us to breathe dirty air and drink polluted water. He said his opponents were putting party above country because they wouldn’t pass yet another stimulus bill. Despite the fact Republicans are pushing to reform and not disband entitlement programs, he persists in telling voters Republicans want everyone to “fend for themselves.”
Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics,” details a series of hyper-partisan moves that set back GOP attempts to forge consensus. For example, Obama didn’t include a single GOP idea in his stimulus bill, after feigning interest to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) And Obama delivered a viciously partisan speech in 2011, after Ryan had put entitlement reform on the table.
Obama is many things, but politically courageous and magnanimous aren’t two of them. It is interesting Michelle chose to speak about those qualities at the Democratic National Convention. Perhaps it is because the Democrats suspect these are the qualities the voters are looking for. Voters, far more than pols, want to get something done and understand there will need to be compromise.
Unfortunately, the Democrats seem to think the voters are amnesiacs and don’t recall the president’s actions over the last four years. It’ll be up to Mitt Romney and Ryan to refresh their memories, and to make sure those telling gaps in Obama’s personality and record are on full display at the debates.