President Obama Fails to Make the Case for Re-election in Charlotte
Toward the end of President Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last night, he said something unusual. He paused and remarked. "I am no longer a candidate. I am the president." The audience cheered. It was as if Mr. Obama was trying to draw water from the campaign well of 2008. Was he insecure? Did he feel he wasn't qualified to be president? Many felt he was not back then. Was he pleading with the audience to not allow the Republicans to take it away? Did he have to remind the audience that he has actually governed for nearly four years? Or did he remind them because his presidency has been one long candidacy? It was some or all of the above, with his famous "I" statements thrown in for recognition.
This is a tired presidency. Obama's performance in Charlotte felt like a reunion of buddies trying to recapture the magic of years ago. The Obama true-believers with beatific smiles on their faces were in need of some "hair of the dog" from 2008 to keep them going. They got it in a rambling speech filled with one-liners from a president who did almost nothing to defend his actual record. The president offered "bold, persistent experimentation" for the future without defending why that recipe had not only failed but scared more the half the population. He pleaded that "our problems can be solved" and "not always by another government program." But he did not explain why "another government program" always seems to be the medicine.
Are you sick of the work "invest?" For clarification purposes it means "raise taxes." Someone should go through every speech in Charlotte and change "invest" to "tax" to get the real meaning. Obama regaled the audience with private sector stories, people who have succeeded. After all, this is America. But the key to understanding the Charlotte Democrats and Obama is this. The private sector gets their rhetoric. Government gets the money, programs and effort.
Democrats are the party of government. What unites Americans, they unashamedly told us, is government. Citizenship means, not the endless and layered private and community associations touted by de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, but loyalty and praise for the federal government and its programs. Obama said the usual "we believe that anybody can become the next Steve Jobs" but went on to say "it is within our power to do that." The context and implication is that government or federally provided student loans or some other hand-out will do that. He already said "You didn't build that." He tells now that yes, we, the government, can. He ironically proclaimed that "government is not the source of all our problems." How about some?
On energy, President Obama was disingenuous. He claimed that "we cut oil imports" during his time in office, when the actual figures show we are more dependent on foreign oil since January 2009. He touted energy development and output, when most of the output was due to higher energy prices and new technology, much of which he opposes. He made no attempt to defend his dismal record in shutting down energy production. He did, however, address "the threat to our children's future." Was this the exploding national debt? No. Climate change.
On tuition costs, Mr. Obama pledged to cut them in half while refusing to address the real cause, the dangerous reliance on government subsidized student loans which have driven college costs through the roof. How he planned to reduce them he didn't say.
On foreign policy, truth was hard to find. He praised his administration for ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the easy part of war. In the former, more Americans have been killed since he took office than before. He counted the military as "making us safer and more respected" in the world, as if our brave women and men in uniform live to serve his foreign policy interests. One gets the feeling from many Democrats that the military are props in their culture war. On Israel, he said that our support "must not waiver" though waiver it has. Mr .Obama also appeared to equate defense spending with wars, as if a strong military got us into them instead of preventing them. Dangerous thinking there.
But he did address reductions in spending a $1 billion agreement with Republicans and a $4 billion reduction in oil subsidies, pocket change in Washington these days. He accused Republicans of wanting government to do "almost nothing." Really? Perhaps in his view "cutting something" and doing "almost nothing" are nearly identical. Democrats and Obama touted "saving the auto companies" when in fact what really happened was that Mr. Obama wiped out existing GM stockholders and gave 60% of the company to the unions. and GM is still in need of tens of billions of dollars. The stock has no dividend and is going nowhere.
Finally, there appeared to be modest adjustment to the Obamamania of 2008. Hope and change is now "faith and hope." The president appeared to be asking "do you still believe in me?" Are you willing to trust your own eyes or my words? He mentioned the path ahead would be harder and longer but did not disabuse many Americans of this hard fact: President Obama himself has made it harder and longer through exploding debt, choking regulation, profligate spending and a misguided attempt to remake the nations health insurance industry. This is the kind of "Forward" most Americans disbelieve in.
Many of the delegates seemed to be distracted, tired and bored by the time Mr. Obama took the stage. But that was not going to deter him from one more shot. At the end, he gave one more try for the medicine of 2008. "The election four years ago was not about me. It was about you." He seemed to be asking, "Are you still with me?" Are you willing to overlook four years and do it all again? In the view of many who heard his speech, that question remains unanswered for most of us outside the camp of true believers.
Jay Haug is the author of Beyond the Flaming Sword. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org