Rule Number One for major addresses and for presidential press conferences is this: a President had better have a good reason for announcing either one. If the speech or the statement doesn’t break new ground — indeed, if it turns out to be the fiftieth iteration of a speech or statement made at the beginning of a presidency — the anticlimax will lead the media to think that the President has run out of ideas, or worse, is simply lying to cover for that fact. Instead of just going to Ohio to campaign, however, Barack Obama and his team decided to promote his speech yesterday as a major “reframing” of his economic message, and ended up breaking both rules. The media didn’t take long to rip the speech as a dull and long-winded repetition of practically every speech on the economy over the last four years, including the normally friendly environs of MSNBC.
Nor is that the only normally-friendly corner ripping Obama, and not just for the dull repetition. For instance, can readers guess which columnist wrote this?
I had high hopes for President Obama’s speech on the economy. But instead of going to Ohio on Thursday with a compelling plan for the future, the president gave Americans a falsehood wrapped in a fallacy.
The falsehood is that he has been serious about cutting government spending. The fallacy is that this election will be some sort of referendum that will break the logjam in Washington.
It wasn’t Charles Krauthammer (who would surely not have had high hopes for the speech), but his Washington Post colleague Dana Milbank. I’m not sure why Milbank had high hopes for the speech; Obama has repeatedly violated Rule 1 in both press conferences and speeches promoted as “major addresses” without delivering anything new.
Milbank hammers Obama for his rank dishonesty and false equivalence on spending cuts by claiming that both Democrats and Republicans have “laid out their policies on the table”:
Obama has made no serious proposal to fix the runaway entitlement programs that threaten to swamp the government’s finances.
“My own deficit plan would strengthen Medicare and Medicaid for the long haul by slowing the growth of health-care costs — not shifting them to seniors and vulnerable families,” Obama said. “And my plan would reduce our yearly domestic spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy in nearly 60 years.”
That’s incorrect. As Politifact has pointed out, Obama’s claim that he would reduce annual domestic spending to a percentage of gross domestic product not seen in 60 years is true only if you don’t count the enormous spending on programs such as Medicare. (Obama presumably means he would cut domestic discretionary spending to a 60-year low, a lesser boast.)
Of more concern is Obama’s nonsensical claim that he has a deficit plan that would strengthen Medicare for the long haul. He has called for doubling Medicare spending over the next 10 years, to nearly $1 trillion in 2022. His cuts in the rate of growth amount to just a few percentage points. As The Post’s Lori Montgomery has reported, the president’s 2013 budget marked “the second year in a row Obama has ignored calls to restructure Social Security and Medicare entitlement programs.”
Nor was Milbank and MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter the only people in the media to notice that Obama offered nothing new, and spent a lot of time delivering it. Politicker aggregated media tweets during the event, and noted that some even begged the President to stop:
Prior to President Barack Obama’s marathon 54 minute speech in Ohio today, the Obama campaign sent our several statements promising the speech would be a major address framing the campaign going forward. Despite the hype, the speech was mainly a rehash of themes and ideas from the president’s recent stump speeches and his remarks were widely panned as overly long by the political press corps. …
All of these points have already been featured in the president’s other recent speeches. Between the pre-speech hype from the campaign, the lack of new material and the overall length of the speech reporters were clearly dissatisfied with end result. Read on for a sampling of Tweets from the political press slamming the president’s speech.
MSNBC’s Mike O’Brien checked out halfway through:
In terms of politics, this speech could have ended about 20 minutes ago. Drive your message, take your ball, go home.
— Mike O’Brien (@mpoindc) June 14, 2012
My friend Olivier Knox at Yahoo wondered whether the official transcript would be published in novel-length form:
I ask colleague for CQ transcript of Obama speech. Response: “Sure, but it looks like they only have the first 45,000 words.”
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) June 14, 2012
Zeke Miller stuck to the facts:
There is nothing new in this speech.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) June 14, 2012
It wasn’t just the media, either. In a development which should deeply worry Team Obama, Democratic Rep. Mark Critz of the critical state of Pennsylvania immediately followed the speech with a statement blasting Obama, hoping to put as much distance as possible between himself and the President:
Battered by a once-again slackening economic recovery, Democrats of late have publicly betrayed their concerns about President Obama. That criticism reached a fever pitch Thursday, when Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa., issued an unsolicited rebuke to the White House moments after the president’s high-profile economic speech ended.“President Obama and others in Washington need to realize that we cannot spend our way to prosperity and that to in order to create jobs,” Critz, who represents much of the late John Murtha’s district around the Western Pennsylvania town of Johnstown. “We need to address unfair trade deals that ship jobs overseas and enact policies that allow us to take advantage of our vast natural resources such as coal and natural gas in a safe and responsible manner which will lower energy costs and create jobs and approving the Keystone XL Pipeline would be a good first step.”Ouch. Not even a passing criticism of Republicans or any momentary mention of protecting popular safety net programs like Social Security or Medicare. Just a head-on, unqualified attack at his own party’s leader.
Ouch, indeed. If Critz is running away from Obama so dramatically, what does that say about Obama’s chances in Pennsylvania?
That’s what happens when a party leader repeatedly sets up his own team for disillusionment and disappointment. It’s akin to Lucy and the football, and it’s not conservatives who are getting repeatedly disillusioned by these stunts. Conservatives already knew that Barack Obama was a one-note President who had no ability to come up with a Plan B. He’s run out of gas, intellectually and on policy, and can’t help himself from offering the same speech over and over again with increasing stridency in the hope that people start believing it again. The only effect that this has is to make his intellectual bankruptcy unmistakable to independents and even to his own allies on the Left. The more this continues, the fewer people Obama will have to line up to kick his football in this election.
Update: Turns out I’m not the only one to use the Lucy-and-the-football analogy. ABC’s Amy Walter tweeted me shortly after the post went up:
@edmorrissey at a focus group in CO this week, an actual voter used the term “Lucy and the football”. Also, some Tim Tebow references
— amy walter (@amyewalter) June 15, 2012
Like I said, it’s not support from conservatives that Obama risks losing with disillusionment …