Friday, September 07, 2012

Aspiration doesn't win reelection

My daughter sent me this neat little gimmick from the Washington Post which looks at the most common words from presidential nominees' speeches since 2000. Looking at 2008, it's no surprise that the most common words by far for McCain and Obama were "fight" for McCain and "promise" for Obama. It fits the persona of each man.

It's fine for a candidate who hasn't been elected before to national office to make a lot of promises. He was the candidate of "hope" after all.

But he's been president now for three and a half years. He's had time to get started on all those promises. So it is quite odd this year to see him still running on what he hopes to do in the future.

He told us that he was telling us the truth. Well, the truth is that he had overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress for the first two years of his presidency. He could have passed a ham sandwich through that Congress. So he got what he wanted. And what he wanted was for the most liberal members of his party in Congress to write their bills for stimulus and Obamacare and then he would take those monstrosities out on the road to demagogue to try to gin up public support. He could have tried to work with moderates in the Republican Party and built plans from there, but he started from the far left and stiff-armed ideas from Republicans. That was his choice so don't believe any of the garbage from Bill Clinton or Barack Obama about how Obama has always wanted to work with the opposition but his extended hand has been rejected.

And don't believe his promises today about how he's going to cut the deficit in the future. Remember he offered a budget that, as John McCormack reminds us, got exactly zero votes in both the House and Senate. His own party wouldn't even vote for it. And his party won't put forward their own plans. How's that for leadership?
The truth is Obama used his speech to attack the budget Paul Ryan authored without offering a real plan of his own to avert the looming debt crisis. "You can choose a future where we reduce our deficit without sticking it to the middle class," Obama said. "Independent experts say that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion." The plan that Obama was talking about is designed to reduce deficits by $1.7 trillion, not $4 trillion. It was defeated 97-0 in the Senate and 414-0 in the House of Representatives. It's a plan that, even if it were to pass miraculously, is "unsustainable" in the long-term, as Obama's own Treasury secretary has acknowledged. It's a plan that doesn't have the support of anybody but Obama, which is to say it's really not a plan at all.

During his speech, Obama attacked Medicare reform, but in four years as president he hasn't proposed his own plan to save it. Obama also touted his tax plan: "I want to reform the tax code so that it's simple, fair, and asks the wealthiest households to pay higher taxes on incomes over $250,000, the same rate we had when Bill Clinton was president." But this is the plan Obama ran on four years ago. Why didn't he push it through when Democrats had a huge-majority in the House and a super-majority in the Senate?

Obama's DNC speech was the last chance of his campaign to propose new policy ideas or reframe the debate. But he didn't do that. He simply served up a four-year-old campaign pledge to raise taxes on the wealthy, an empty promise to reduce the deficit, and plenty of snarky and demagogic attacks on his opponents.
Obama had the burden of explaining why a second term would be better for the economy than his first. As Yuval Levin writes, he didn't fulfill that goal.
The basic problem for a president running for re-election in hard times is to explain how the next four years would be different than the last four without making himself sound like a failure. Obama simply didn’t do that. He offered the Left’s usual confused nostalgia for the early postwar years followed by a vague vision of hope and a set of bland goals that had to leave his listeners wondering why he hadn’t done these things in the last four years, and therefore why we should expect him to be more effective with (almost certainly) even fewer votes in Congress on his side in the next four. He offered no sense that he thinks some significant change of direction is necessary, and therefore seems set on spending the fall insisting that things are on the right track but Mitt Romney would disrupt them. I suspect that won’t be an easy sell.
All he has left is the straw man of arguing that the choice is between Republicans' desire to leave people on their own versus Democrats' plans to have the government provide programs to address whatever needs we have.
For the most part, though, the offensive theme was a simpler matter: attacking Mitt Romney and his supposed plans to eradicate all of government while giving tax cuts to the wealthy. The president sought to use the fact that the Republicans last week didn’t have much to say about their own agenda to try to describe that agenda for the country himself. This consisted largely of some indefensible interpretations of Romney’s budget goals and a downright falsehood or two about his Medicare proposal plus the assertion that someone with no foreign policy experience couldn’t be trusted to be president (which does take some gall for this particular president). But the thrust of it, again, was to suggest that Romney wanted to decimate the government for the sake of his rich friends.

This was really the only coherent message of the speech: Romney would be bad for America. The president laid out no discernible second-term agenda of his own, and his defense of his first term bore no resemblance to what that first term had involved.
So when he talks about his hopes for the future, don't listen to what he aspires to do, but what he has already done.