14 Apr 2011

Obama’s Speech: Dishonest and a Waste of Breath

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The Wall Street Journal was openly contemptuous.

President Obama’s extraordinary response to Paul Ryan’s budget yesterday—with its blistering partisanship and multiple distortions—was the kind Presidents usually outsource to some junior lieutenant. Mr. Obama’s fundamentally political document would have been unusual even for a Vice President in the fervor of a campaign.

The immediate political goal was to inoculate the White House from criticism that it is not serious about the fiscal crisis, after ignoring its own deficit commission last year and tossing off a $3.73 trillion budget in February that increased spending amid a record deficit of $1.65 trillion. Mr. Obama was chased to George Washington University yesterday because Mr. Ryan and the Republicans outflanked him on fiscal discipline and are now setting the national political agenda.

Mr. Obama did not deign to propose an alternative to rival Mr. Ryan’s plan, even as he categorically rejected all its reform ideas, repeatedly vilifying them as essentially un-American. “Their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America,” he said, supposedly pitting “children with autism or Down’s syndrome” against “every millionaire and billionaire in our society.” The President was not attempting to join the debate Mr. Ryan has started, but to close it off just as it begins and banish House GOP ideas to political Siberia.

Mr. Obama then packaged his poison in the rhetoric of bipartisanship—which “starts,” he said, “by being honest about what’s causing our deficit.” The speech he chose to deliver was dishonest even by modern political standards.

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Paul Ryan put it best: “He’s basically a pyromaniac in a field of straw men.”

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Clive Crook, an Atlantic liberal and Obama supporter, found neither substance nor merit in it

Obama had a difficult assignment in this speech, partly because of the exaggerated hopes for it. … Even allowing for that, it was weak both politically and substantively. My instant unguarded reaction, in fact, was to find it not just weak but pitiful. I honestly wondered why he bothered.

There was no sign of anything worth calling a plan to curb borrowing faster than in the budget. He offered no more than a list of headings under which $4 trillion of deficit reduction (including the $2 trillion already in his budget) might be found–domestic non-security spending, defense, health costs, and tax reform. Fine, sure. But what he said was devoid of detail. He spent more of his time stressing what he would not agree to than describing clear proposals of his own. …

The speech was more notable for its militant–though ineffectual–hostility to Republican proposals than for any fresh thinking of its own. It was a waste of breath.

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Mr. Crook was clearly entirely correct, since all the President seems to have accomplished was to put the Vice President to sleep.

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