The presidency doesn’t change who you are, Michelle Obama told us Tuesday night, but reveals who you are. The words were especially apt applied to her husband, whose time in office has indeed revealed an unchanging academic liberalism. What did the president’s convention speech last night reveal about his campaign?
Hope depreciates. The convention speakers’ message is that the president’s wise policies brought the recession to an end, that jobs have been coming back, and that they will continue to do so. They have, however, been coming back sluggishly — a fact everyone knows but few in Charlotte acknowledged — and neither the president’s speech nor Bill Clinton’s much-admired one offered any reason but blind faith to think that the situation will improve.
Attacks are the essence. To fill the hole where new ideas should be, President Obama and Vice President Biden offer attacks on Romney and Ryan. Nearly all campaign attacks involve distortions and simplifications. The Obama campaign rests on them. President Obama said that Romney’s Medicare plan asks “seniors to pay thousands of dollars more” — a claim that even some liberals have admitted is rubbish. Of Social Security he said that Romney planned on “turning it over to Wall Street.” In reality, Romney has backed away from proposals for personal accounts, which would have turned over the money to the beneficiaries to invest as they wish if they wished.
Government needs no solution. In the world of the Democrats’ rhetoric, very much including that of the president last night, there is no crisis of the welfare state. The thought that welfare states designed under the circumstances of the past have run up against ineluctable limits never intrudes on the happy fantasy that we can carry on pretty much as before, and indeed have the government blithely take on new commitments.
[Noun] [Verb] bin Laden. The president clearly relished going after Romney over foreign policy, sometimes seriously and sometimes pettily. It’s a miscalculation. The president’s shabby treatment of our allies will not be overcome by one (true!) gaffe by Romney in London. Given Obama’s own history, the argument that he should be reelected because he is the sitting commander-in-chief — which is all that can be said of his crack about his opponents’ lack of foreign-policy experience — will not sway anyone. Americans are glad Obama directed the killing of Osama bin Laden, and in large part for this reason he has an edge on foreign policy. But Americans are not going to keep him in office for it, any more than the British electorate gave Churchill a reward for greater accomplishments.
Strawmen must be vanquished. Both Biden and Obama battled against Republicans who supposedly want to leave Americans “on their own” rather than recognize that we’re “all in this together.” Perhaps the low point of Obama’s attempt to develop this criticism came when he claimed that “we have been told by our opponents” that “if a company releases toxic pollution into the air your children breathe, well, that’s just the price of progress.” (Cue the fact-checkers.) Neither Romney nor Ryan has proposed to abolish the welfare state, or entitlements, or to cut Social Security benefits for the poor. They have argued for placing limits on federal commitments to make them sustainable and compatible with economic growth. Evidently the president is shy about engaging the argument at that level.
President Obama is a candidate who disdains his opponents, harbors an unjustified esteem for his own political talents and policy wisdom, and has no real sense of the challenges of the day. Romney owes it to the country to beat him, and it ought to be doable.