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Sep 07 2012

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Obama – Four Years Later

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No Greek Columns This Time…

There was a certain appropriateness about the setting for President Obama’s acceptance speech last evening.

The venue, moved from a 70,000 seat outdoor stadium to a 20,000 seat indoor arena – ostensibly due to bad weather that never came – was more modest. The ludicrous Greek pillars of Denver were gone, replaced by a very large, blue stage and single podium, which provided a spartan image that made the speakers seem somehow smaller and more accessible.

Like the mythical Icarus, who ultimately flew too close to the sun, the Obama who came to Charlotte has been burned by the reality of governing over the last three and a half years, and has fallen closer to earth as a result. But even a diminished Obama remains a rhetorically formidable politician. On the technicals of delivery, in terms of timing, energy and polish, Obama hit his mark, as Americans have come to expect of him.

The key question leading into last night’s address then, was whether the President could deploy his oratory in such a compelling manner as to make up for the practical failures of his first term.

In essence, Obama needed to ask the American people for the presidential mulligan.

To do that, skill can get you only so far. Substance matters. And here, the President’s speech necessarily required a suspension of disbelief. For only if you take the President’s words at face value could you come to the conclusion that the last four years entitles POTUS to another four.

Context and simple fact-checking disqualifies the argument.

Time lines and responsibilities are distorted in Obama’s review of his term.

Speaking of his signature “Hope & Change” mantra from 2008, Obama said, “…hope has been tested— by the cost of war; by one of the worst economic crises in history; and by political gridlock that’s left us wondering whether it’s still possible to tackle the challenges of our time.”

Oddly, the autumn of 2008 featured two wars, an economic crisis and political gridlock. The idea that President Obama was somehow walking into a completely new set of circumstances once he won the election is at variance with the record. Indeed Obama campaigned to solve the very issues that in last night’s presentation were the source of his first term disappointments and failures.

Missing from the presentation was context and responsibility.

The Iraq war that Obama took credit for ending, was actually ended by an agreement negotiated and approved by President Bush in 2008. The build up in Afghanistan, which Obama approved as President, was similarly left on the desks of  the incoming appointees. POTUS just followed the road map.

As for the economic crisis, it was the deployment of TARP that saved the banks in the autumn of 2008 and stabilized the financial sector. Most of that money was out the door before Obama was sworn in. For better or worse, the Bush administration started aid to the auto sector well before Obama took the oath.

There is no doubt that the private sector was hemorrhaging jobs as President Obama took over, but his focus on the financial bailout of two of the Big Three as a metaphor for a healing economy fails to identify any policy that the President created that stemmed the tide of private sector job losses nationally that wasn’t there before he took office. Certainly the Stimulus – which went unmentioned last night – did nothing to create private sector jobs.

It remains a fair question of what exactly did the Obama administration do to make that come about?

And trade agreements Obama passed?

Please.

Those agreements were negotiated and ready to go in 2008, courtesy of Bush administration. Union Democrats in Congress refused to allow the bills to come to a vote until after the midterms restored the GOP to control in the House.

And as much as the Democrats heralded the auto bailout this week as a hallmark of presidential nerve and courage, nothing was said about bondholders who were effectively defrauded in the restructuring, or the government-mandated termination of dealerships, which actually increased unemployment by tens of thousands, or the $34 billion that the USG is still owed by GM and its financing affiliate, Ally. GM stock is only worth 50 percent of the strike price, so any recovery any time soon does not appear likely.

And it is this government paradigm that POTUS said he wants to bring to other sectors of the economy?

The sad truth about the Obama administration and the economy is that 14 days after the Stimulus passed – itself about 25 days into the Obama presidency, POTUS had moved on to health care and Cap’ Trade. The Administration did not take up jobs and the economy again until after the GOP won in 2010.  That’s the real story.

And no Obama speech would be authentic without the “strawman”; a rhetorical device to knock down a claim that no one made to begin with.

Last evening POTUS said that the middle class would have to give up their mortgage deductions to pay for tax cuts for the “rich.” No one on the GOP side has proposed that.

Similarly, POTUS said that he would not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that would transfer costs to seniors.  Any read of the Ryan plan shows that neither do Republicans.

And then there were the simplifications that strain credibility. Can’t afford a doctor? Republicans say, don’t get sick. Company releases toxic pollution, Republicans say that’s the price of progress.

Preposterous.

This was all paired with the required genuflecting to core constituencies.

 More teachers – always more teachers. But so long as the NEA is running the show, seniority, tenure and benefits will always be more important than actual education. Look at the stats. Education funds grow exponentially and test scores plummet. And that righteousness about taking banks out of the student loan process completely misses the looming financial catastrophe that the Administration has abetted with the student loan bubble.

The environmentalists got their plug as well, with a pledge for more tax dollars for technologies that are not cost effective. Higher CAFE standards may be appealing, but not when the car manufacturers are producing at extravagant cost, what Americans won’t buy (see Chevy Volt). Interestingly, POTUS mentioned a one million barrel a day decrease in oil imports, calling it “historic.”

You know who made the exact same claim during a re-nomination speech?

Jimmy Carter.  You can check it here.

And who knew what a fiscal disciplinarian POTUS was? $4 trillion in deficit savings over the next ten years?  But of course a trillion of that comes from cuts that make up the fiscal cliff coming later this year. The Administration considers money not spent on Iraq and Afghanistan over the next ten years as money “saved.” The truth is that under the Obama plan, the national debt increases over the next ten years.  The $4 trillion savings is an illusion.

Thus, broken down to its pieces, the President’s address last night was really nothing new.

He took little if any responsibility for the past three and a half years, instead blaming historical forces beyond his control ,and of course, the GOP. His actual plan for the next four years was mostly vague. There was a lot of talk about big issues and  tough choices, but little detail on how they would be carried out. His alleged budget bone fides are no better today than when he became president. And to criticize the GOP alternative, he had to caricature them beyond reasonableness.

It wasn’t terribly compelling.

Finally, consider this:

Tonight, more American are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive [and] credit card bills you can’t afford to pay…”

No, that wasn’t a quote from Mitt Romney’s speech in Tampa.

That was candidate Obama speaking in Denver in 2008.

An indictment in 2008 remains the net result today.

Does that deserve another term?

No mulligans on November 6th.

 

 

 

 

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