President Barack Obama gave yet another “major address” on Wednesday, this time about the economy, but it wasn’t like the good old days. We’re wizened enough to recall a time when every Obama oration was treated as a stop-the-presses event, whether it was major or not, but this time is barely rated a mention.
Obama’s speech at Illinois’ Knox College came in at a Castro-esque one hour and six minutes long, but the hourly updates on the radio gave it only a few seconds. The more high-minded media outlets gave it the dutiful respect of more than a minute of air-time or just enough column inches to necessitate a jump to the inner pages, and the right-wing ranters on talk radio had a few indignant comments, but it wasn’t enough to knock the naming of the new royal baby off the top of the news budget. Even the votes in Congress to continue the National Security Agency’s spying on average Americans and to slow the increase in student loan interest rates were considered livelier topics.
Being both unaccountably curious and almost insanely stout we managed to slog our way through a transcript of the entire speech, and although we concede the possibility that it somehow sounded better in Obama’s sonorous baritone we must say that it was just awful. Not only was it badly written, with an abundance of mixed metaphors and clichés and faux-folksiness and talk of the damage done by meat cleavers left in place, it was also chockfull of half-truths and full-blown untruths and a down-right demagogic dismissal of any disagreement. Mostly is was the same old class-warfare rhetoric that Obama has been peddling his entire political career, as if income inequality were the only flaw in an otherwise flawlessly functioning economy, and a handful of policy proposals that would only make things worse.
Obama starts the hour-long monologue by noting a speech he had given at the college shortly before being elected to the Senate, as if 2005 were so long ago, and admitting that he gave basically the same speech then. After a hackneyed history of the middle class descent into destitution that preceded him, Obama then offered a surprisingly upbeat assessment of the current economy. He touted the stock market’s climb to new highs, as if it weren’t a Fed-fueled bubble, cited the massive new regulations of the financial industry, as if they had done anything but make finance more expensive, touted the boom in fossil fuel production, as if it weren’t occurring on privates lands despite his best efforts to impose higher energy costs on the country, bragged about the revival of the auto industry, as if Detroit had not recently declared bankruptcy, and boasted of doubling wind and solar energy, as if that highly subsidized and ultimately inconsequential increase weren’t the reason that he’s been trying to increase the cost of fossil fuels. He even boasted of deficit reduction, as if the national debt had not increased by nearly seven trillion dollars on his watch.
If there is anything amiss in the economy, say a sluggish growth rate or persistently high level of unemployment and even higher levels of unemployment, Obama places the blame solely on the Republicans that have apparently been running the government unimpeded for the past five years. He’s revived the old argument that all the country’s calamities are a result of “sequester” budget cuts, as if his office did come up with the idea in the first place, and insists that any further decreases in spending must be done with a scalpel rather than that meat cleaver the Republicans have left in place. Of course there was nothing in speech to suggest where that scalpel should cut, just as every Obama has proposed spending increases rather than cuts to anything but national defense, and there were plenty of calls for more and more government.
He called for an increase in the minimum wage, as if high unemployment is a result of too-cheap labor costs, and for immigration reform that would flood the low-skilled labor market with tens of millions of new job-seekers, as if that’s going to alleviate unemployment, and the usual demand for more revenues, as if a healthy tax-hike is just the elixir required for an ailing economy. The rest of it was more lamenting the fact that some people do better in life than others, and although he offered no specific remedies for this injustice the implication seemed to be some people simply shouldn’t be allowed to prosper so much. How this will spur economic growth remained unexplained, but it seems to involve tax hikes.
Perhaps the press paid such scant attention because Obama has promised a series of similar speeches around the country, and they want to dole out his eloquence in measured portions. After months of speculation that various issues have been ginned-up to distract attention from the sorry state of the economy, there is now speculation that Obama has once again “pivoted” to the economy to distract attention from various controversies that have swirled about the White House lately. Obama dismissed these issues as “phony scandals,” as if any concern about the fatal mishaps and cynical lies that were the Benghazi scandal, or the Internal Revenue Services harassment of the president’s political enemies, or the criminalization of investigative reporting, or that congressionally-approved NSA spying on average Americans are of no consequence.
Those things are important, in our view, but so is the president’s stubborn insistence on the same policies that have made this the slowest and weakest economic recovery in the nation’s history.
— Bud Norman