Hypocritical, incoherent, and unpresidential. Other than that it was a good speech.
Tuesday, President Obama traveled to Osawatomie, Kansas, the same small town in Kansas where, in 1910, Teddy Roosevelt delivered one of his most famous speeches calling for a “new nationalism.”
The biggest difference between Barack Obama and Teddy Roosevelt this week is that Obama’s trip to Kansas was paid for by Wall Street. Imagine the Street’s surprise, after yet another big money fundraiser, to find the president blaming it for the nation’s woes.
It’s equally hypocritical to blame the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for our economic malaise. Here's what the president said on Tuesday:
Remember in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history. And what did it get us? The slowest job growth in half a century. Massive deficits that have made it much harder to pay for the investments that built this country and provided the basic security that helped millions of Americans reach and stay in the middle class -- things like education and infrastructure, science and technology, Medicare and Social Security.
And then turn around and demand that Congress pass – you guessed it – a tax cut! Here's the president, again:
“But in order to structurally close the deficit, get our fiscal house in order, we have to decide what our priorities are. Now, most immediately, short term, we need to extend a payroll tax cut that’s set to expire at the end of this month.”
Obama’s hypocrisy is built on a foundation of incoherence. This is not surprising. As a candidate and president, he has been as constant as a second is long.
In the Kansas appearance, which was billed by the White House as a "major" speech on the economy, Obama returned to the tired banality of blaming the financial crisis on banks who “forced” the middle class to borrow just to keep up (keep up with what?) in the pursuit of large profits and huge bonuses.
There has never been a shred of support for this view. (For a coherent discussion of the roots of the crisis, click here.)
President Obama blames America’s rising income inequality on tax cuts, insurance companies, banks, and weak regulation – ignoring the overwhelming evidence that the same shift is occurring globally under a wide variety of policy regimes.
Clearly the forces at work are global in nature, not specific to the United States. They deserve a coherent analysis that leads to a coherent set of policy proposals. The Kansas speech contains nothing of the sort.
Finally, Obama’s speech was not presidential. A presidential speech gets its facts right – it doesn’t wind up winning three “Pinocchios” from Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in The Washington Post.
A presidential speech also manages to draw from the great intellectual and data resources available to the president, not from a New York Times blog post and Bloomberg News video clip.
Those lapses are simply embarrassing to the nation and an indictment of the quality of the Obama administration.
But most importantly, it is the president’s obligation to lead. As president, Barack Obama has been absent or has punted on just about every major issue or tough choice. He left the drafting of the stimulus and health care bills to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, ignored his own fiscal commission’s report, spent the crucial months of the super committee’s deliberations on fundraising and foreign travel, punted on the Keystone pipeline, and …. the list goes on.
The result is that we still have the same problems we had when he took office (only worse): massive debt and unsustainable entitlement programs, high unemployment, and a struggling economy.
Instead of leading, he points fingers … at his predecessor as president, at Wall Street, at the rich, … at whoever he might blame as a successful strategy to keep his job.
The United States has real problems. It needs real leadership. It does not need another Osawatomie moment.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin is president of the American Action Forum and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.