For a man whose entire political career is predicated upon his powers of oratory, President Barack Obama can be remarkably sloppy with words. Republicans, he charged this week, have a one-sentence platform: “It’s Obama’s fault.” Indeed, the words “Obama’s fault” are now cropping up with regularity among the president’s partisans. The telling fact is that the president apparently is unable to discern the difference between what is his fault and what is his responsibility. The 1980 recession and the legacy of stagflation were not Ronald Reagan’s fault, but they were his responsibility, and he dealt with them. The Third Reich was not Franklin Roosevelt’s fault, but his responsibility. Presidents Reagan and Roosevelt went into their reelections able to show the American people that they had dealt with their responsibilities. President Obama cannot say as much. What he can talk a great deal about is that he has talked a great deal.
That was the case yesterday in Ohio, and most of his talk was cheap and partisan. Indeed, the president at this late date still does not seem to have digested the fact that his job involves more than making speeches. But even what was in his speech was deeply problematic.
The president, in the course of blasting Romney and “his allies in Congress,” rhetorically linked Romney to congressional deficit-reduction proposals, which is fair enough, given that Romney has endorsed the Ryan budget plan. The president then added: “I have not seen a single independent analysis that says my opponent’s economic plan would actually reduce the deficit. Not one.” That may be technically true, since the Romney campaign’s proposal has not been rigorously scored, owing to the fact that the campaign has not yet released key specifics regarding taxing and spending figures — in particular how it would pay for its tax cuts. But Romney at least has a plan for dealing with the biggest drivers of our long-term debt problem, whereas President Obama, by his own Treasury secretary’s admission, does not.
Further, as for the Ryan plan that Romney has endorsed, it has been scored by no less an authority than the Congressional Budget Office, which concluded that the plan would indeed reduce the size of deficits over the next decade, modestly when compared with the fanciful “current baseline” scenario and more dramatically compared with the more realistic “alternative fiscal scenario.” The CBO’s most realistic projection is that the deficit in 2022 would be nearly four times as large without the Ryan plan as it would be under it (7.5 percent of GDP under the alternative fiscal scenario versus 2 percent under Ryan). And a key fact left unstated is this: Under none of the three competing CBO scenarios is the deficit in 2022 as large as it will be this year under President Obama’s watch, or near what it was under the unified Democratic government of Obama-Reid-Pelosi. When it comes to the deficit, the country would be better off doing nothing than suffering more of the same from President Obama and his Democratic allies.
While positioning himself as the scourge of Wall Street, the president reverentially cited a Moody’s report that Mr. Romney’s economic proposals would “do more harm in the short term.” With all due respect to our pinstriped friends, perhaps Mr. Obama would care to see what Moody’s outlook on mortgage derivatives was a few years back before presenting the firm’s projections as dispositive evidence of anything other than their rhetorical convenience.
Of course, the Romney plan includes deep spending cuts, and some of those will be difficult or unpopular, perhaps even impossible to pass through Congress. But the president’s lament was nonetheless overblown. He fretted that “10 million college students would lose an average of $1,000 each on financial aid.” Can we please make it $2,000? The stream of unaccountable federal money pouring into the higher-education establishment is a source of tuition inflation, not the cure for it. Likewise, the president bemoaned that Republicans might want to trim Head Start, a program of questionable merit. That is not the worst possible outcome. We’d also propose spending a little bit less money getting monkeys high on cocaine and chronicling the benefits of menopausal yoga, as the president’s stimulus program did. Call us Luddites.
The tragedy of Barack Obama’s logocentric presidency is that the best economic-policy speech in the history of economic speeches would not change the facts on the ground — sickly recovery, massive unemployment, onerous deficits — and he did not give the best speech. It is probable that the electorate’s judgment of President Obama vis-à-vis matters economic is by this point fixed, and that he has been found wanting. Old Clinton hands have been begging him to change his tune on the economy, but President Obama is not an easy man to move. James Carville won’t be able to do it, but perhaps Ohio, Florida, and Virginia can.