Professor President?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hi. I’ve been busy lately, working on something way too long to post. In the meantime, brilliantly creative storylines have been piling up in my notes. I just haven’t had time to turn them into the short short stories I love to write. “Okay,” I’ve told myself. “I’ll just have to take a break from my blog for a few weeks,” but then I heard this speech, the one I’m going to talk about, and couldn’t help myself. It’s the feeling I get when guy at the table next to mine gets served a piece of key lime pie. To hell with my low carb diet.

Of necessity, this post is going to be longer than usual, but then so was the President’s speech. Fair is fair. Feet up, chips and guacamole at the ready, here we go. (What? You don’t type with your feet up on your desk? ..Oh. You prefer salsa. I’m okay with that.)

The speech I’m talking about is the one President Obama delivered before the Associated Press Luncheon a couple of days ago on Tuesday, the third of April. It was approximately 7,200 words that were intended to wow his audience through a lengthy, intellectual, sometimes mocking, explicitly devastating attack on the budget proposal authored by Representative Paul Ryan and endorsed by Mitt Romney.

In so many words, the President tells us that the Republican proposals are seriously, dangerously wrong, while he is God’s gift to government and will lead us down the road to a righteous recovery if only we give him a second chance. The thing is, I’ve been around for a while, long enough to recognize empty political rhetoric when I hear it.

Barack Obama may be President, but his speech was far from presidential. I’ll give you a few examples of what I’m talking about and leave it to you to make up your own mind.

It’s a lecture that he’s delivering. Not so much a speech, but a lecture. After a lengthy introduction during which he offers his view of relevant political and economic history, with cocksure superficiality, President Obama gets into the meat of his argument. I don’t pretend for a moment that I’m in any position to challenge his specific assumptions and conclusions. “We live,” Jerry McGuire told us, “in a cynical world, a cynical, cynical world.” What I do pretend with certainly is that he’s offering a decidedly self-serving point of view and saying whatever it takes to sell it.

Like all great magicians, it’s about distraction. He wants us to believe that the Republican mind is flawed. I’ll give him that. More importantly, he wants our attention riveted on one particular concept which, true or not, he believes we all find objectionable. He wants us, in the worst possible way, to believe that Republicans and the Ryan budget are all about protecting and giving more to the rich, at the expense of the rest of us. It the “trickle down” theory that he’s talking about. The words are from The White House release of this speech. The bold print is mine.

So we tried this theory out. And you would think that after the results of this experiment in trickle-down economics, after the results were made painfully clear, that the proponents of this theory might show some humility, might moderate their views a bit. You’d think they’d say, you know what, maybe some rules and regulations are necessary to protect the economy and prevent people from being taken advantage of by insurance companies or credit card companies or mortgage lenders. Maybe, just maybe, at a time of growing debt and widening inequality, we should hold off on giving the wealthiest Americans another round of big tax cuts.

The President needs for us to believe that all the Republicans want is to protect the rich at our expense, that Republicans are synonymous with the academically and morally corrupt concept of “trickle down economics,” when nothing ever trickles down – and that, if we buy into this Republican nonsense, we’re all going to go to hell in a hand basket. What he can’t allow you to figure out is that “trickle down economics” is nowhere in the Ryan budget he’s so glibly attacks. More on this in a minute, but the Ryan budget should actually increase total taxes paid by America’s wealthiest families. In fact, the whole issue of how much the extremely rich pay is a red herring President Obama is using to paint Republicans as bad guys and distract voters from the reality of his record in office.

But that’s exactly the opposite of what they’ve done. Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down, and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal. (Laughter.) In fact, that renowned liberal, Newt Gingrich, first called the original version of the budget “radical” and said it would contribute to “right-wing social engineering.” This is coming from Newt Gingrich.

While President Obama was speaking in front of a highly educated, politically astute luncheon audience, he knew this speech would be given wide coverage. The luncheon was, after all, sponsored by the Associated Press. No doubt about it, he was making a major campaign speech for all of us to hear. As for the larger audience of we ordinary Americans, how many of us really remember much about, or understood the “Contract with America” or know that much, really, about the New Deal? How many of us appreciate the meaning of “right-wing social engineering,” a Newt “Blowhard” Gingrich idiom the President seems to like. (The word “Laughter,” in parentheses, here and throughout the text of the speech, are in The White House release. I wonder if anyone had booed, burped or worse, or when there was dead silence, why the White House wasn’t as explicit.)

And from later in the speech…

This congressional Republican budget is something different altogether. It is a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism. It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who’s willing to work for it; a place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class.

“Tojan House”? “Disguised as deficit reduction plans,” heaven forbid, “it is really an” insidious (my word) “attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.” A bit overdramatic, don’t you think? And then “..thinly veiled social Darwinism,” like we ordinary people appreciate the nuances of that concept. “Antithetical”? Nice SAT word, but who talks like that? College professors. The boring kind with something to prove, who believe it’s more important to be smart than productive, as if there’s something wrong with being both.

To be clear, I’m not saying I miss George W. Bush because I don’t, but who does President Obama think elected him? And President Obama says Mitt Romney is out of touch, has little or nothing in common with the American people. Am I critical of the President for being intelligent and highly educated? Of course not. What I’m pointing out is the hypocrisy of the notion that he’s just one of the guys. In no minor way, President Obama’s professorial stewardship of our government explains his lack of success. Very smart man. Excellent speaker. Exceptionally good person. Bad President, nonetheless. We elected him to manage the government, not just talk about it.

And yet, this isn’t a budget supported by some small rump group in the Republican Party. This is now the party’s governing platform. This is what they’re running on. One of my potential opponents, Governor Romney, has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency. He said that he’s “very supportive” of this new budget, and he even called it “marvelous” — which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget. (Laughter.) It’s a word you don’t often hear generally. (Laughter.)

So here’s what this “marvelous” budget does.

First of all, “rump group”? Oh, wait. Am I mocking the President for his use of language? Sorry. My apologies, but “rump” isn’t a term I often hear applied to movements within a political party, or generally for that matter. (Feel free to insert laughter here.)

In fact, the President is mocking his prospective opponent. For his choice of words? He’s not funny, the President that is, notwithstanding the parenthetical references to laughter. His humor, such as it is, is certainly not Presidential. His wisecracking may be relatively petty, but it’s no example to set in a time when we’re so aware of the negatives of taunting and bullying – and it certainly does nothing to encourage cooperation and compromise between the parties. To his credit, and to my knowledge, it’s not a style of campaigning that Romney has adopted. I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong.

Later in his speech, after listing the catastrophic, albeit unsupported implications of the Ryan budget, President Obama affirms the accuracy of his assertions.

This is not conjecture. I am not exaggerating. These are facts. And these are just the cuts that would happen the year after next.

If this budget became law, by the middle of the century, funding for the kinds of things I just mentioned would have to be cut by about 95 percent.

So where are the charts, the tables, the underlying math and, most importantly, the references to specific language? We’re supposed to believe him just because he’s the President and he says it’s so? As if politicians always know what they’re talking about and never, ever spin or misrepresent the truth.

And then, in the second of the two quotes immediately above, in what is classic Obama, he makes a reference to an event which he predicts, with absolute certainty, won’t happen until the “middle of the century.” Unbelievable. It’s the same way he tells us that some program he’s invented will save us a zillion dollars over the next 10 years – because the one tenth of a zillion it will save us next year is singularly unimpressive relative to the size of our total spending and the economy, and when he has no honest way of predicting anything 10 years into the future, except that he’ll no longer be in office. It’s the same concept as when he creates important health care legislation in his first term, but puts off most of its implementation until after the next election, until after he’s been re-elected, maybe.

Last quote, I promise. The “tax cuts” he’s talking about are the one’s, so the President tells us, Paul Ryan’s budget is giving to the very rich.

We’re told that these tax cuts will supposedly be paid for by closing loopholes and eliminating wasteful deductions. But the Republicans in Congress refuse to list a single tax loophole they are willing to close. Not one.

To be kind, the President is poorly informed. On the other hand, he could just be lying. In support of my conclusion, when you have time, you might want to read “Judge a Tax Plan by Its Loopholes,” by James Stewart, posted in the “Business Day” section of NYTimes.com, March 23. Here’s a relevant excerpt. The parenthetical comment, in the third paragraph about the White House’s politically convenient assumption is Mr. Stewart’s.

This is a conservative Republican document intended to cut taxes on the wealthy? To me it sounds like a proposal to raise their taxes by depriving them of cherished “loopholes,” to use the proposal’s word.

Mr. Ryan wants two simple tax rates: 25 percent for higher incomes and 10 percent for lower incomes. He wants to abolish the alternative minimum tax, which has hit an ever-growing number of middle-class taxpayers, especially in high-tax states like New York and California. He wants the results to be revenue-neutral.

But there’s no getting around the fact that a 25 percent rate on the top earners would nearly double Mr. Romney’s effective rate and more than double it for the 101 of the top 400 taxpayers who pay less than 10 percent, assuming the loopholes are indeed closed. (The White House calculation that the Ryan plan would result in a tax cut for the wealthy assumes they won’t be.) A top rate of 25 percent may sound like a cut from current higher rates, but so few wealthy taxpayers pay the top rate that it would be a significant increase for many of them.

The point is that Mr. Ryan doesn’t list the loopholes he’s going to close because he’s suggesting a simple, flat rate tax system without (so many) special rules, deductions, exemptions, exclusions, etc. Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge the good in that and use it as a basis for constructive compromise, President Obama offers his own convenient interpretation of Mr. Ryan’s proposal to make a point that works for his (the President’s) re-election, but isn’t real. To play off the great Volkswagen commercial, he’s being farfrompresidential. It’s dishonest and very disappointing, the crass rhetoric, wrapped in great oratory, of an fundamentally insecure politician.

And, in conclusion, our President makes the following point, the implication being that Republican descent and resistance to his uniquely special vision and specific programs is somehow anti-American.

And this sense of responsibility — to each other and our country — this isn’t a partisan feeling. This isn’t a Democratic or Republican idea. It’s patriotism.

Okay. This is not a philosophical debate, not even – fair warning to the Republicans – about the role of government. “What we’ve got here,” the late, great Strother Martin might have said, “is failure to manage.” – and that, if he can get this point across, is how Mitt Romney can beat President Obama.

This speech at the Associated Press luncheon – it’s inaccuracies, its exaggerations and use of philosophy and rhetoric in a failed attempt by oratorical style to triumph over substance is the Rosetta Stone for President Obama’s greatest vulnerability. It’s proof positive of what I believe that more and more of the electorate has begun to realize. That President Obama is in over his head and that the head we’re talking about belongs on a campus somewhere, and not in the oval office during a time of unprecedented government mismanagement.

Long post. Thank you for reading it, and for your comments – especially the favorable ones.

-wf

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2 responses to “Professor President?

  1. Mimzy (Diane)

    As I’ve told my relatives who support this “president”, you can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out. I know what I’m gonna do in the upcoming presidential election. My hope is that others will see what’s going on and do the same. As usual, you hit the nail squarely on the head. Thanks for your insightful article; I don’t care how long it is, you always seem to have your hand on the heartbeat of true Americans.

  2. Hey, Mimzy. Always good to read your voice.

    As you know, I’ve come to believe in the politics of the “Next Contestant.” It’s a simple, long-established rule: Are my family and I… Less selfishly, Is my country better off today than it was when the current President took office? If not, and assuming the alternative isn’t completely unacceptable, time to give the next guy (man or woman) a chance.

    -wf

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