Democrats like to think of themselves as the party of smart people. And over the last four years we have heard countless encomiums, and not just from Democrats, of the intellect and perceptiveness of Barack Obama. But a reading of the text of Obama’s December 6 speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, billed as one of his big speeches of the year, shows him to be something like the opposite.
Even by the standards of campaign rhetoric, this is a shockingly shoddy piece of work. You can start with his intellectually indefensible caricature of Republican philosophy: “We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.” Or his simple factual inaccuracy: “The wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century.” Or his infantile economic analysis, blaming job losses on the invention of the automated teller machine (they’ve been around for more than four decades, Mr. President, and we’ve had lots of job growth during that time) and the Internet.
But what’s really staggering is the weakness of his public policy arguments. The long-term unsustainability of our entitlement programs he blames solely on the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts—an explanation no serious observer regards as anything but incomplete, to say the least. He points to growing income inequality and to remedy it advocates policies that are utterly inadequate to the task. We need to be “making education a national mission,” he says, and in essence argues for channeling more money to teacher union members.
He calls for a “world class commitment to science and research, the next generation of high-tech manufacturing,” which brings to mind the bankruptcy of Solyndra and the fiasco of channeling billions to green industries which produce few jobs or products anyone wants to buy. He calls for reducing unemployment by “rebuilding our roads and our bridges, laying down faster railroads and broadband, modernizing our schools—all the things that other countries are already doing to attract good jobs and businesses to their shores.” That sounds like more stimulus package spending on nonexistent shovel-ready projects.
“In the long term we have to rethink our tax system more fundamentally,” the president who declined the invitation of his own Bowles-Simpson commission to propose broad-based tax reform. His only idea on offer is to increase tax rates on high earners, which of course tends to redirect their animal spirits away from productive investment and toward tax avoidance schemes. And he calls on banks to do more for mortgage holders, without mentioning that administration programs to encourage such activity have helped far, far fewer people than projected.
What we have here, it seems a president who has no serious interest in public policy. He has spent nearly half his 15 years in public office running for other public office. The only difference now is that, having run out of higher offices to run for, he is just running for reelection instead. Those who pride themselves on belonging to the party of smart people should be embarrassed.