The Political Contrast
Published: June 14, 2012 266 Comments
President Obama sometimes forgets that an important speech does not have to be endless. On Thursday, appearing before supporters at a Cleveland community college, he spent 53 minutes on the stark contrast between his goals and the failed Bush-era policies that Mitt Romney is trying to resurrect. It’s hard to imagine that the speech, overgrown as it was with policy details, won the hearts of many independent voters yearning for a clear understanding of how much is at stake in November
That doesn’t mean that the principal point Mr. Obama made on Thursday isn’t worth considerable repetition: There is no meaningful difference between the trickle-down economics of George W. Bush, rejected by the country in 2008, and the plans supported by Mr. Romney and his Republican allies in Congress. All the elements are there, from the slavish devotion to tax cuts for the rich, to a contempt for government regulation, to savage cutbacks in programs for those at the bottom.
“If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney,” he said. “You should take them at their word, and they will take America down this path. And Mr. Romney is qualified to deliver on that plan.”
Mr. Romney, in fact, helped reinforce the president’s point with his own speech minutes before, in which he denounced virtually all forms of regulation, from ones cleaning the air to those preventing banks from engaging in the same destructive behavior that produced the Great Recession on Mr. Bush’s watch. If only the government would get out of the way, he suggested, and stop trying to cover those without health insurance, or keep the groundwater clean, then jobs would magically reappear.
Of course, that didn’t happen when Mr. Bush tried it; painfully slow job growth was followed by a recession that shed nine million jobs. The proposals made by Mr. Obama in Cleveland are more likely to put people back to work: invest more money in education, job training and rebuilding infrastructure. Focus more on developing new energy sources than pulling globe-warming coal from the ground. Lower the deficit through higher taxes on the rich, which could lead to a pact to cut spending responsibly.
The Republican recalcitrance on taxes has led to a Washington stalemate that the president referred to eight times in his speech, saying it can be broken only by the voters. But Mr. Obama’s re-election cannot, by itself, end the impasse. It is once his opponents’ free-market ideas are fully seen to be bankrupt that Congress will either change or begin acting in the country’s interest. Breaking the grip of these ideas truly is, as Mr. Obama said Thursday, “a make-or-break moment for America’s middle class.”
And it is there that Mr. Obama still has not made his case. Mr. Romney’s entire campaign rests on a foundation of short, utterly false sound bites. The stimulus failed. (Three million employed people beg to differ.) The auto bailout was a mistake. (Another million jobs.) Spending is out of control. (Spending growth is actually lower than under all modern Republican presidents.) He says these kinds of things so often that millions of Americans believe them to be the truth.
It is hard to challenge these lies with a well-reasoned-but-overlong speech — just as, in an odd juxtaposition, Mr. Obama failed to make his case for his Afghanistan policy in a speech in May that was both too short and too shallow. The president has less than five months to find a way to make a vital message sink in.
Romney Assails Obama for Favoring Words Over Action(June 14, 2012)