Our Small Minded President

Mickey Kaus may have nailed it:

Why has Obama’s public campaign been so ineffective for the past month? Couldn’t someone digitally sophisticated and untanked–e.g. Buzzfeed‘s Ben Smith–make a good argument that the President was led astray by the overhyped reality and promise of Internet Politics. Specifically, a) he exaggerated the power of his Web-friendly left wing; b) he overestimated the force of attack lines the Web-friendly left wing would find convincing, like pointing out, when discussing Iran in Debate #3, that Romney had once “invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector;” c) he fell for the netroots’ psychological impulse to “fight back” when he should have been borrowing, triangulating and cooptingd) he ended his campaign pushing lame internet-friendly rhetorical gimmicks–”Romnesia,” “The 1980s are … calling”–instead of tried and true substantive pitches about protecting Medicare and Social Security, etc.

** Memes instead of meat! His team is so Web-savvy they’ve forgotten how to campaign…. After all, Obama’s aides are probably all on Twitter. Inevitably, if subconsciously, they’ll tend to skew in favor of ideas that get them big instant Twitter love,  as opposed to old-fashioned themes that will win over the unconverted. Webbische kopf. … I’m sure there are more possible bullet points.

The record is clear:

Four years ago, President Obama and Vice President Biden were bursting with plans. Obama said he would cut the deficit, middle-class taxes, and health care premiums, while also creating a new entitlement to health insurance. He said he’d revamp America’s energy, education, and immigration policies for the 21st century. He delivered a speech in the early months of his term saying he’d put America on a “new foundation.” His 2011 State of the Union address was devoted to “winning the future.”

But all of these big dreams have crashed against the granite wall of reality. The deficit is up, the price of fuel and health care premiums has increased, incomes are down, and tax increases loom. Obama is exhausted. His political capital is spent. The boldest proposal he’s put forward recently is hiring another 100,000 teachers. That doesn’t even rise to the level of small-ball. It’s mini-golf.

The Republicans are playing a big-boy’s game as the Democrats heckle from the sidelines. Romney wants to reform the federal tax code by lowering rates while closing loopholes and deductions. Obama says it can’t be done, and argues instead for higher rates on a smaller base. Romney wants to reform Medicare and Medicaid by introducing a premium-support system that retains traditional Medicare as an option and by block-granting monies to the states to give governors more flexibility. Obama vows to protect the existing system, even while acknowledging that health spending is out of control.

Romney wants to increase permits for oil and natural gas drilling in the Lower 48, offshore, and in Alaska; lay pipeline; and exploit cutting-edge technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Obama responds desultorily that the energy picture is fine and that the government must protect, and even double down on, subsidies and loans to alt-fuel failures such as Solyndra, A123 Systems, and Abound Solar. Romney wants to repeal the unpopular, unconstitutional, and partisan health care overhaul, and replace it with measures that would spur competition and consumer choice and protect doctors from frivolous lawsuits. Obama never will agree to a repeal of his signature legislation, and likely would spend a second term implementing, protecting, enhancing, and expanding it.

It is Obama, not Romney, who is the obstacle to change. Even the liberal New Republic admits that disheartened progressives should support Obama’s reelection simply so he can block the Republicans: “Without a second term, the accomplishments of his first would evaporate.” But suppose these dubious “accomplishments” are unpopular and counterproductive (which they are). Wouldn’t we be better off if they did indeed “evaporate,” and if serious, adult, and competent measures to restore a productive and growing economy took their place?

The party of progress in a liberal democracy is the party of growth. Economic growth would reduce joblessness, increase take-home pay, generate additional revenue for the Treasury, improve the condition of the poor, and diminish the widespread sense of national anxiety and decline. Growth would act as a salve on our acrimonious, polarized, and bitter politics.

Which party stands today for growth? The record of the Democratic administration is not encouraging. Economic growth has been under 2 percent in 2011 and 2012, well below trend. Obama says the solution is for the Treasury to “invest” more, but whatever short-term benefits government spending brings are purchased at the long-term cost of debt and taxes. Besides, most of the spending Obama has in mind is not for public goods such as roads and bridges, research, and the military, but for transfer payments that finance present consumption while acting as marginal tax increases on the working poor. That is not the way to prosperity.

Romney himself stated these truths in a recent speech in Iowa. Full speech below with excerpt underneath:

This is an election of consequence. Our campaign is about big things, because we happen to believe that America faces big challenges. We recognize this is a year with a big choice, and the American people want to see big changes. And together we can bring real change to this country.

Four years ago, candidate Obama spoke to the scale of the times. Today, he shrinks from it, trying instead to distract our attention from the biggest issues to the smallest–from characters on Sesame Street and silly word games to misdirected personal attacks he knows are false.

The President’s campaign falls far short of the magnitude of the times. And the presidency of the last four years has fallen far short of the promises of his last campaign. Four years ago, America voted for a post-partisan president, but they have seen the most political of presidents, and a Washington in gridlock because of it.

President Obama promised to bring us together, but at every turn, he has sought to divide and demonize. He promised to cut the deficit in half, but he doubled it. And his budget? It failed to win a single vote, Republican or Democrat, in either the House or the Senate. He said he would reform Medicare and Social Security and save them from pending insolvency, but he shrunk from proposing any solution at all.

And then, where are the jobs? Where are the 9 million more jobs that President Obama promised his stimulus would have created by now? They are in China, Mexico, and Canada and in countries that have made themselves more attractive for entrepreneurs and business and investment, even as President Obama’s policies have made it less attractive for them here.

And so today, his campaign tries to deflect and detract, to minimize the failures, and to make this election about small shiny objects.

But this election matters more than that. It matters to your family.

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