President Obama’s campaign speech on the economy today was an utter disaster for him. It was a bromide of tired old arguments, pathetic blame-placing, and shopworn con tricks. And even liberals like Jonathan Alter had to admit that it was, overall, a dramatic failure.
He began where he always does: with blame. “We’ve been wrestling with these issues for a long time,” he said. “The problems we’re facing right now have been more than a decade in the making …. For more than a decade, it had become harder to find a job that paid the bills, harder to save, harder to retire, harder to keep up with rising costs of gas and health care and college tuitions.” Translation: Blame Bush.
The Blame Bush nonsense continued apace:
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.
Fact: huge tax cuts did lead to greater job growth. Bush oversaw 52 consecutive months of job growth under his watch, beginning in September 2003 and December 2007.
Fact: tax cuts did begin to pay for themselves. The deficit began to shrink under President Bush between 2005 and 2007 thanks to increased tax revenue generated from economic growth.
Fact: fewer regulations did create widespread prosperity. What led to the economic meltdown was government pressure on private institutions to make shoddy loans to subprime borrowers.
Later in his speech, Obama rewrote history to turn this into malfeasance solely by Wall Street: “Without strong enough regulations, families were enticed and sometimes tricked into buying homes they couldn’t afford. Banks and investors were allowed to package and sell risky mortgages. Huge reckless bets were made with other people’s money on the line. And too many, from Wall Street to Washington, simply looked the other way.” Nobody was suckered into buying a home they couldn’t afford. They simply made bad decisions, incentivized to do so by the federal government.
But Obama wasn’t close to done. He suggested that the Bush economic policies only helped the top 1 percent – even though as Robert Reich has pointed out, “The top 1 percent got 45 percent of Clinton-era economic growth, and 65 percent of the economic growth during the Bush era. According to an analysis of tax returns by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, the top 1 percent pocketed 93 percent of the gains in 2010. 37 percent of the gains went to the top one-tenth of one percent. No one below the richest 10 percent saw any gain at all.” It is Obama’s economic policies that have benefitted the top 1 percent at the expense of everyone else.
Obama capped off the Blame Bush campaign point by stating that “this was not your normal recession.” That was true. What followed was not.
“Throughout history it has typically taken countries up to 10 years to recover from financial crises of this magnitude. Today the economies of many European countries still aren’t growing and their unemployment rate averages around 11 percent.” This was not a point in Obama’s favor, though his shoddy knowledge of history didn’t allow him to see that. The fact is that every recession in American history ever fought with tax cuts and less regulation led to quick recovery; every recession in American and European history fought with broader government spending and more regulation has led to prolonged misery.
Then Obama got into his litany of false accomplishments:
- “Our businesses have gone back to basics and created over 4 million jobs in the last 27 months; more private sector jobs than were created during the entire seven years before this crisis, in a little over two years.” When a huge number of people are unemployed, it is easier to create jobs. The question isn’t how many jobs were “created.” It’s how many people are still out of work. This is choosing a selective timeline. Note that Obama doesn’t say what happened prior to the last 27 months.
- “And when my opponents and others were arguing that we should let Detroit go bankrupt, we made a bet on American workers and the ingenuity of American companies and today our auto industry is back on top of the world.” Bankruptcy does not mean that companies lay off all their workers and shut their doors. It means they undergo forced reorganization. The fact is that the auto bailouts have left the taxpayer billions in the hole, and that Obama stuck stakeholders with the bill when he turned the American auto industry over to the auto unions.
- “But let’s be clear: Not only are we digging out of a hole that is 9 million jobs deep, we’re digging out from an entire decade where 6 million manufacturing jobs left our shores; where costs rose but incomes and wages didn’t; and where the middle class fell further and further behind.” Obama’s plan to bring those jobs back: tax the companies that want to ship them overseas, and force them to pay higher salaries and more benefits to American employees. Great plan.
But Obama’s real mission in all of this isn’t to say that he’s been successful (he knows he hasn’t been). It’s to demonize Romney – he’s going to cut things, big things! In fact, Obama created a fictional scenario – he admits in the speech he’s making this up – that would have Romney cutting certain popular government programs:
“They haven’t specified exactly where the knife would fall, but here’s some of what would happen if that cut that they proposed was spread evenly across the budget. 10 million college students would lose an average of a thousand dollars each on financial aid. 200,000 children would lose the chance to get an early education in the Head Start program. There would be 1,600 fewer medical research grants for things like Alzheimer’s and cancer and AIDS; 4,000 fewer scientific research grants, eliminating support for 48,000 researchers, students and teachers.”
Of course, he does admit this is fiction – of course the knife won’t fall evenly. And those cuts won’t be the big ones. But then Obama plays it as fact. Then he lies and says that Romney will raise taxes on the middle class. And he pretends that all economists agree with his failed approach.
Finally, after all this absolute rubbish, Obama gets to his own plan. What is it? Cliches! Check out some of these wonky proposals:
- “I believe that you can’t bring down the debt without a strong and growing economy. And I believe you can’t have a strong and growing economy without a strong and growing middle class.” In fact, “middle class” is an Obama buzzword. It gets repeated over and over. What does this mean in terms of policy? Who knows?
- “The race I want us to win -- a race I know we can win -- is a race to the top. I see an America with the best-educated, best- trained workers in the world; an America with a commitment to research and development that is second to none, especially when it comes to new sources of energy and high-tech manufacturing.” So he’s proposing … that we not be dumb. Great idea! Too bad that Romney guy didn’t think of that.
- “I see a country that offers businesses the fastest, most reliable transportation and communications systems of anywhere on Earth.” So … a monorail?
- “I see a future where we pay down our deficit in a way that is balanced -- not by placing the entire burden on the middle class and the poor, but by cutting out programs we can’t afford and asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share.” Sounds like fun. So when’s Obama going to repeal Obamacare to make this happen?
- “That’s my vision for America: education, energy, innovation, infrastructure, and a tax code focused on American job creation and balanced deficit reduction.” There is not one word of this cliché-ridden sentence that Mitt Romney would contradict. And Obama offers this as his “vision.”
His vision truly is spending a lot of money. He wants more spending on education. He wants more spending on college loans. He wants more spending on green energy programs. He wants more spending on government jobs programs. He wants more spending … more spending … more spending.
After all else had failed, Obama played Republican – proclaiming that he’s a tax-cutter and ignoring the fact that he has called for tax increases, and that come January 2013, Americans will face the widely-dreaded taxmageddon; shouting that he’s a deficit-reducer even as he jacks up the deficit to record rates; bragging about how he’s a low-spending president when he is clearly the highest-spending president in American history by a long shot.
Finally, Obama tried to turn back the clock to 2008. “Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and imagination. We haven’t done these things as Democrats or Republicans. We’ve done them as Americans.” We’ve heard this song and dance before.
And we’ve seen what happens when we believe it. We have a four-year record of incompetence covered by blame-mongering and lie-telling. Obama’s speech offered no new vision, no new solutions, not even any inspiring rhetoric. What a pathetic launch to a campaign about the economy. Then again, what a pathetic president.