Man, is Barack Obama running dry.
The president gave a speech about the economy yesterday to put his stumbling campaign on a strong new footing — and cribbed most of it from speeches he delivered last year.
OK, presidents repeat themselves; it’s no crime. But they tend to repeat themselves when they’re trying to advance a specific argument, piece of legislation, or cause — and they tend to repeat their strongest and most potent points in an effort to win that argument.
That’s not what happened yesterday. Instead, Obama dug back into his bag of tricks and brought out a bunch of unsuccessful arguments — ones that failed to generate support when he first advanced them and failed to move the policy needle in his direction.
A long passage about how Abraham Lincoln was both the first Republican president and the first Big Government president came directly out of his Sept. 9, 2011, speech before a joint session of Congress to push his “American Jobs Act.”
Remember what a triumph that was? Me neither.
Obama yesterday: “As much as we might associate the GI Bill with Franklin Roosevelt” (odd, since Roosevelt had been dead two years when it was passed), “it was a Republican, Lincoln, who launched the Trans-Continental Railroad, the National Academy of Sciences, land-grant colleges.”
Obama on Sept. 9: Lincoln was “a Republican president who mobilized government to build the Transcontinental Railroad, launch the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land-grant colleges.”
Here’s the oddity: Using Lincoln to sell Obamanomics was a flop nine months ago, when it was part of a nationally televised address seen by 10 times as many people as watched yesterday’s speech. If it didn’t work then, why would it work now?
Over and over yesterday, the president returned to stale rhetorical tricks (“This isn’t spin,” he said repeatedly as he spun Republican budget proposals to make them look as bad as he could) and flat rhetorical tropes (“Don’t let anybody tell you the challenges we face right now are beyond our ability to solve”).
Most striking was the failure to deliver on the specific promise he made at the beginning of the speech — to talk about the differences in his approach to bringing about economic growth from Mitt Romney’s.
About Romney’s he talked a lot — about 20 minutes. He said the Romney approach would combine tax cuts and deregulation in a manner he deemed dangerous and injurious.
But about his own approach he said almost nothing. Oh, he talked about subsidizing scientific research so that the Thomas Edisons and Wright Brothers of the 21st century would come from America (although neither Edison nor the Wrights received a cent of government aid). He talked about teachers and infrastructure and the like.
He did not, however, say what he would do to strengthen economic growth immediately. It is hard for him to do so — because, even though he acknowledged in his opening that he’d made a “gaffe” last week about the private sector doing fine, he then proceeded to make exactly that case.
Why, listening to Obama talk about his economic triumphs over the last three years might make you want to move to the country he was describing. Too bad that country exists primarily in his own head.
The speech was a calamity for him, though it won’t have much impact. It demonstrated that he knows he can only win by framing the election as a choice between him and Romney and getting the country to see that he’s a safer bet. But it also demonstrated the only arguments he has to make that case are arguments that have already failed to move the American people in his direction.
More striking was the evidence of Obama’s indiscipline — a destructive problem for someone in a tight race. The endlessly repetitive speech was so very, very long that it brought to mind a story about the 1960 premiere of the Otto Preminger movie “Exodus,” about the creation of the state of Israel. As the film crossed the three-hour mark, the comedian Mort Sahl stood up and shouted, “Otto, let my people go!”
If the nation’s undecided voters decide Obama has become a bore on top of everything else, they’re going to do what Otto Preminger would not do for Mort Sahl: They’re going to let him go.