Pete Souza/White House
What is there to say about Barack Obama's speech to Congress Thursday night and the so-called American Jobs Act he said Congress must pass? Several thoughts occur, all starting with P.
Projection. That's psychologist-speak term for projecting your own faults on others. "This isn't political grandstanding," Obama told members of Congress, as Republicans snickered (but thankfully resisted the temptation to shout, "You lie!"). "This isn't class warfare."
"Obama is like the guy in the bar who says, 'I'll stand drinks for everyone in the house,' and then adds, 'Those guys over there are going to pay for them.'"
These sentences came four paragraphs after Obama insisted that "the most affluent citizens and corporations" should pay more taxes (which spurs job creation how?) and not long before he promised to "take that message to every corner of the country."
Lest there be any doubt about Obama's real intentions, consider that his speech was obviously modeled on Harry Truman's call for a special session of the Republican Congress in the summer of 1948 so he could campaign against it. And consider that Obama pointedly refused to rebuke Jim Hoffa's "let's take these sons of bitches out"--meaning Republicans--when he introduced him last Monday in Detroit.
Pragmatism. Perceptive writers like David Brooks of the New York Times told us in 2008 that Obama was basically a pragmatist, a slave to no ideology but simply a student of what works. Brooks was apparently impressed by Obama's mention of Edmund Burke and the sharp crease in his pants.
But a pragmatist would probably not choose to call for more of the policies that plainly haven't worked. Infrastructure spending (shovel ready, anyone?), subsidies of teachers' salaries, fixing roofs and windows on schools: These were all in the 2009 stimulus package, which has led to the stagnant economy we have today.
A pragmatist doesn't keep pressing the same garage door button when the garage door doesn't open. He gets out of the car and tries to identify what's wrong.
Paid for. "Everything in this bill," Obama said in his eighth paragraph, "will be paid for. Everything."
By whom? Well, in the 24th paragraph he tells us that he is asking the 12-member supercommittee Congress set up under the debt ceiling bill to add another $450,000,000,000 or so to the $1,500,000,000,000 in savings it is charged to come up with. The roving camera showed the ordinarily hardy supercommittee member Sen. Jon Kyl looking queasy.
Obama is like the guy in the bar who says, "I'll stand drinks for everyone in the house," and then adds, "Those guys over there are going to pay for them."
What's fascinating here is that once again the supposedly pragmatic and sometimes professorial president is not making use of the first class professionals in the Office of Management and Budget to come up with specifics, but is leaving that to members of Congress, maybe in a midnight marathon session with deadlines pending. Same as on the stimulus package and Obamacare.
Pathetic promises. Perhaps he hoped people wouldn't notice, but Obama did put in two words--"faster trains"--as a plug for his pet project of high-speed rail. Liberal blogger Kevin Drum calls California's HSR project, the largest in the nation, "a fantastic boondoggle," likely to cost three or four times estimates and with ridership estimates that are "fantasies." "We have way better uses for this dough," Drum concludes.
Political payoffs. Nearly one-quarter of this latest stimulus package--sorry, American Jobs Act--is aid to state and local government, to keep teachers and other public employee union members on the job and paying dues to the unions. Altogether unions gave Democrats some $400 million in the 2008 election cycle. Pretty good return on their "investment," eh?
Pettifoggery. Obama impressed many conservative writers in 2008 with his ability to state their positions in fair terms--which led some to think that surely he must agree with them. But he seems to have lost this knack.
Conservatives, according to this speech, want to "wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades" and "simply cut most government spending and eliminate most government regulations."
"Most" means more than 50 percent. Does the White House have documentation for the claim that Republicans want to cut government spending by more than 50 percent? And what "basic protections" do they want to "wipe out"?
Obama seemed like an unhappy warrior Thursday night, still unreconciled to the results of the 2010 elections, "seeming desperate and condescending at the same time," in the words of maverick liberal blogger Mickey Kaus. That darn garage door just won't open!
Michael Barone is a resident scholar at AEI.