Today President Obama delivered what was billed as a major speech on the economy in Cleveland. It was intended to restart his campaign after a series of tough weeks in which he has been unable to articulate a coherent, let alone persuasive, rationale for his candidacy. So today was advertised as a do-over, from scratch.
Critics almost universally panned Obama’s speech. It was too long, at 54 minutes. It was delivered in a dull, even defeatist style. It contained nothing new–neither new themes nor new policy proposals. It exhibited the whiny, blame-everyone-in-sight quality that has long been putting off voters. And, despite Obama’s endless talk about offering voters a clear choice, he continued to be strangely vague about what he actually wants to do if he gets a second term.
It would take hours to parse the speech in its entirety, so I want to comment on a few selected elements. Let’s start with a point on which Barack and I agree:
[M]ore than anything else, this election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions of how to create strong, sustained growth; how to pay down our long-term debt; and most of all, how to generate good, middle-class jobs so people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead.
That is correct. I would add that we have just lived through three and a half years of the Obama administration, which allows us to judge how successful his policies have been at creating strong, sustained growth, paying down long-term debt, and generating good jobs. So Obama begins the comparison at a distinct disadvantage.
[W]hat is holding us back is not a lack of big ideas. It isn’t a matter of finding the right technical solution. Both parties have laid out their policies on the table for all to see.
What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate.
This is revisionist history. There was no “stalemate” in 2009 or 2010; the Democrats controlled all the levers of government. Barack Obama issued any executive orders that he deemed appropriate, and Congress passed all legislation on which Democrats could agree. Republicans had no ability to block Democrat-sponsored measures. So the Democrats passed the $850 billion stimulus, vastly increased discretionary spending, adopted Obamacare, and did anything else they pleased. That wasn’t “stalemate,” it was unfettered Democratic dominance.
But the Democrats’ policies turned out to be catastrophic failures. The stimulus failed to either hold down unemployment, which increased substantially, or to promote growth, which remained anemic. Obamacare proved immediately unpopular and placed heavy burdens on hiring by small businesses, thereby increasing the unemployment rate. The Democrats’ skyrocketing discretionary spending, stimulus and otherwise, was widely judged to be wasted. Its only tangible effect was to cause the national debt to grow three times faster than at any time in our history.
Americans were horrified by the results of the Obama administration’s policies in 2009 and 2010. Therefore, they turned out in November 2010 to stop the Democrats from more such follies. The Republicans, fueled by the Tea Party movement, took the House. Since 2011, there has, therefore, been some constraint on the Democrats’ ability to weaken the economy through massive increases in spending and debt. If this is “stalemate,” it is exactly what the voters chose in 2010.
Obama next embarked on a digression:
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.
If Obama thinks we’ll give him ten years to drive us deeper into the hole, in hopes that we might someday duplicate the European stagnation model, he’s got another think coming! Actually, what American history shows is that the deeper the recession, the steeper the recovery. Thus, when we had a deep recession at the beginning of the Reagan administration, the recovery was explosive, with more than a million net jobs being added in some months. The Reagan recovery didn’t take anything like ten years; on the contrary, inflation was defeated, unemployment was slashed, and GDP growth equal to the entire output of Germany was added to the American economy, in a remarkably short time. This is because Reagan’s government got out of the way of private sector growth, something that Barack Obama is philosophically unwilling to do. So let’s take Obama at his word: if he has his way, we will experience a “lost decade,” ten years of futile effort to recover from a recession.
Now Obama does his mea culpa:
[T]he debate in this election is not about whether we need to grow faster, or whether we need to create more jobs, or whether we need to pay down our debt.
Of course the economy isn’t where it needs to be. Of course we have a lot more work to do. Everybody knows that.
Translation: I was really stupid to say that the private sector is doing fine. Please vote for me anyway!
Next Obama becomes even more disingenuous than ever:
Now, Governor Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory we tried during the last decade, the theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down.
No Republican of modern times has ever argued that “the best way to grow the economy is from the top down.” Rather, it is fundamental to conservatism that growth comes from the bottom up. Conservatives believe that innovation comes from small businessmen, not Washington lobbyists and big-company CEOs. Conservatives believe that decisions made top-down–”I know, let’s invest billions of taxpayer dollars in Solyndra!–are likely to be bad. Obama, here, is taking on a straw man; but it is a straw man that looks a lot like Barack Obama.
One of Obama’s problems is that he has a track record in the form of legislative proposals, budgets, and so on. That record is indefensible, so Obama–I am sorry, but there is no polite way to put this–lies about it. As he does here:
This is the vision behind the deficit plan I sent to Congress back in September, a detailed proposal that would reduce our deficit by $4 trillion through shared sacrifice and shared responsibility.
But Obama’s proposed budget didn’t reduce the deficit by $4 trillion. On the contrary, it increased spending and racked up more debt in every one of the ten years that it covered. Altogether, far from reducing the deficit by $4 trillion, it increased it by $11 trillion! Obama’s statements about his own budget proposal are transparent lies that can be debunked by anyone who tracks down a copy of his FY 2013 budget proposal. In fact, Obama’s budget was so profligate that not a single Senator or Congressman of either party voted for it!
And my plan would reduce our yearly domestic spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy in nearly 60 years.
This is one of those odd moments when Obama claims a distinction that you know he does not crave. Reducing domestic spending to its lowest pro rata level in 60 years? Obama would rather saw off his right arm than do any such thing! He lives to increase spending on domestic programs and entitlements. So where does his odd statistic come from? The Obama administration fabricated it out of whole cloth by assuming that its policies would cause GDP to grow explosively over the coming years: 4.3% between FY 2011 and 2012, and a towering 70% real GDP growth between FY 2011 and FY 2022. If you project that sort of growth, then federal domestic spending will indeed decline as a percentage of GDP (as will everything else).
Unfortunately, the Obama administration can’t come close to achieving those assumed growth rates. Currently, annualized GDP growth is running between 1% and 2%, nowhere near the 4.3% that the administration said we would be seeing by now. So the purported conservatism of Obama’s fiscal plans is simply an artifact of assuming economic growth far beyond anything that we will actually see. When the growth fails to materialize, does Obama plan to scale back federal spending commensurately? Don’t be silly. Of course not!
This is one of the most pathetic sections of Obama’s speech:
Lincoln wasn’t talking about paying for your family’s medical bills or your kid’s lunches.
That’s how we built this country — together. We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together. …
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.
Does anyone imagine that the Obama administration would be capable of carrying out a great public works project like Hoover Dam or the Golden Gate bridge? Or organizing a moon program? Or “unlocking the mystery of the atom,” which I suppose is a euphemism for developing nuclear weapons? The answer is obviously No. Any such projects would be tied up for decades in environmental lawsuits–lawsuits which would receive Barack Obama’s full support. The bottom line is that in today’s Democrat-dominated America, there is zero chance of any great public works program being carried out. Everyone who listened to Obama’s speech, whether Republican or Democrat, young or old, must have had this thought.
This is one of the most disingenuous riffs I can remember coming from President Obama. It is on the subject of energy:
Now is not the time to go back to a greater reliance on fossil fuels from foreign countries. Now is the time to invest more in the clean energy that we can make right here in America.
Obama poses a stupid dichotomy. We don’t have to choose between “fossil fuels from foreign countries” and “clean energy that we can make right here in America.” Rather, we have more fossil fuels here in the U.S. than can be found in any other country, and those fossil fuels are the efficient, effective energy resources that our citizens should be allowed to develop.
My plan for energy doesn’t ignore the vast resources we already have in this country. We’re — we’re producing more oil than we have in over a decade.
Yes, because of the Bush administration’s liberal permitting, and because some of the greatest energy strikes of recent years have been on private land (North Dakota, for example), where it has been difficult for Obama and his fellow anti-energy liberals to impede development.
But if we truly want to gain control of our energy future, we’ve got to recognize that pumping more oil isn’t enough. We have to encourage the unprecedented boom in American natural gas. We have to provide safe nuclear energy and the technology to help coal burn cleaner than before.
We have to become the global leader in renewable energy, wind and solar and the next generation of biofuels, in electric cars and energy-efficient buildings.
This is an odd oration. In the first paragraph Obama, for perhaps the first time in his life, says something that is entirely true: America needs to take advantage of its vast oil and natural gas resources, of nuclear energy, and of its enormous coal reserves, greater than those of any other nation. So far, he sounds like a Republican. But then he adds:
So my plan would end the government subsidies to oil companies that have rarely been more profitable.
This is profoundly stupid. Oil companies do not receive subsidies; like all other companies, they are entitled to various deductions when they compute their net, taxable income. But they are not subsidized; their tax bills are enormous. Exxon Mobil, to take one example, pays more in taxes on its United States operations than it earns in profits. If Barack and Michelle Obama paid taxes at such rates, they would squeal like stuck pigs.
Let’s double down on a clean energy industry that has never been more promising.
But wait! didn’t we just decide that energy subsidies are a bad idea? Apparently not! Obama wants subsidies to energy companies, he just wants the money to go to companies whose executives contribute mightily to his re-election campaign. The whole “green energy” scam is nothing but a cesspool of corruption. But note how remarkable it is that Barack Obama thinks the “clean energy industry” has “never been more promising,” when in fact we are seeing a steady stream of bankruptcies, business failures, losses on government loan guaranties, and troubled “green” projects looking for government bailouts.
In today’s speech, Obama had the air of a man living in the wrong decade, who has never really made much effort to understand the time in which he finds himself. Facts were few and far between; he harkened back to long-gone decades as though they had been a promised world, overlooking the fact that the residents of those purportedly golden eras would have unequivocally rejected Obama’s vision of a government-centered society. The net effect of Obama’s speech, I think, was to expose once again the lack of coherence and lack of consistency in Obama’s confused thinking about America’s economy.