Airbrushed History and Dusted-Off Promises
In his Charlotte speech, the president said he'd never claimed the recovery would be quick or easy. Actually, he had.
Both Democratic euphoria and Republican angst over President Obama's convention bounce were short-lived. The bounce is modest and likely to diminish. What remains is Mr. Obama's convention address, which reveals weaknesses in his message for the campaign's final months.
In his speech in Charlotte, N.C., last Thursday, Mr. Obama said, "I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have." In truth, he did. Mr. Obama and his economic team claimed in a Jan. 9, 2009, report that if his stimulus bill were passed, joblessness would peak at 8% in eight months and decline to roughly 5.6% by today. Instead, unemployment has been at 8% or higher for 43 months.
Remember the administration's "Recovery Summer" PR offensives? In April 2010, Mr. Obama said, "We are beginning to turn the corner." Then in June 2010, he said "our economy is getting stronger by the day." Vice President Joe Biden predicted job gains of 500,000 a month. In August 2010, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner penned an op-ed entitled "Welcome to the Recovery."
So why was the president insisting last week that two terms were required to affect an economic recovery? This week's ABC News/Washington Post poll provides a clue: 32% of voters say they are not as well off as when he became president, 47% say they are about the same, and only 20% say they are better off.
Mr. Obama said soon after arriving in the Oval Office, "If we can't get this done in three years, this is going to be a one-term proposition." The best he can do now is plead for more time and hope to airbrush history.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Obama also renewed attacks on opponents for advocating "tax cuts" and "rolling back regulations on Wall Street." But his familiar, repetitive assaults on the policies that "drove our economy into the ditch," as he put it in a September 2010 speech in Wisconsin, raise questions about the president's lethargy.
If the Bush tax cuts drove the economy into the ditch, shouldn't Mr. Obama have asked Congress to cancel them as soon as he took office in 2009? Instead, he endorsed a two-year extension of the rates in 2010.
And what financial deregulation is Mr. Obama hinting at? The Bush years saw the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley and an attempt to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mr. Obama presumably favored the former and opposed the latter.
That leaves the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that prohibited commercial banks from being both a lender and a brokerage. President Bill Clinton signed its repeal in 1999. None of the financial institutions that got into trouble in 2008 did so because of Glass-Steagall's repeal. But, notwithstanding Mr. Clinton's role in repealing the law, if Mr. Obama thought it the source of America's economic difficulties, he could have called for its re-imposition as president. He didn't.
Then there is the nation's growing national debt. Mr. Obama called his predecessor's deficits "un-American." They pale in size to the deficits he's run up—a trillion dollars a year, every year. The budget plan he submitted to Congress earlier this year does not ever envision bringing the budget into balance.
Mr. Obama took no action to rescind the policies that he suggests got us into the ditch. Was that leadership?
In Charlotte, Mr. Obama offered other promises, most with a familiar ring. In February 2009, he pledged to "cut the deficit . . . by half by the end of my first term in office" while last week he said he would "cut our deficits by $4 trillion." In November 2008, Mr. Obama promised to "recruit an army of new teachers;" in Charlotte the president said he'd "recruit 100,000 math and science teachers." In June 2008, he pledged to "help workers learn the skills they need;" last Thursday, he said he'd "give two million workers the chance to learn skills."
Mr. Obama even downsized some promises. In July 2008, he said by 2018 "we must end this dependence on foreign oil." In Charlotte, it was "we can cut our net oil imports in half by 2020." In August 2008, he promised "we will make college affordable." In Charlotte, the promise was to "cut in half the growth of tuition costs."
Mr. Obama sounds like he believes he's done all he needs to and done it all properly, except for failing to "tell a story to the American people" as he explained to CBS News in July. No course changes are needed for the next four years, just more time to let his most excellent policies finally work their magic. If this is the best he can do over the next 54 days, he's in trouble.
This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, September 12, 2012.