Rhetoric vs. reality
Early June found President Obama using Cleveland as a backdrop for a major address on the economy. This was an important event because the economy and jobs are the two issues that dominate the 2012 presidential election.
The speech was a dud. Even the predictably pro-Obama Jonathan Alter, Newsweek and MSNBC columnist, proclaimed, ”One of the worst speeches I’ve ever heard Barack Obama make.”
Clive Cook, senior editor at The Atlantic, a liberal and dependable supporter of the president, called the speech “an uncoupling, unmemorable performance during which he talked too long and kept repeating himself.” Dana Milbank, a reliably liberal analyst for The Washington Post, called his speech “a falsehood wrapped in a fallacy.”
Frankly, I thought it was pretty much the same stuff he’s been saying for the past four years. I think the reason the speech fell flat for many was because even some of his supporters now notice the gulf between his rhetoric and reality.
Alter, for one, has noticed the divergence between Mr. Obama’s rhetoric and reality: he believes “The falsehood is that he has been serious about cutting government spending. Obama has made no serious proposal to fix the runaway entitlement programs that threaten to swamp the government’s finances.”
But, Mr. Obama’s disconnect from the financial realities facing the country is not his only problem. “The White House,” according to Alter, “seems stone-deaf to the country’s doubts about its policies. The polling on health-care reform, the polling on deficits and debt, the election of Scott Brown [in Massachusetts], the mid-term rout of House Democrats [in 2010], [the victory of Scott Walker in] Wisconsin — it’s as though these things never happened.”
What’s even worse than not noticing that some things haven’t happened is not acknowledging that there are other things that aren’t going to happen. A good example is Mr. Obama’s plea for the old “together-we-can-do spirit” that built this country. He tells us, “That’s how we built this country — together. We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and imagination.”
Well, Mr. and Mrs. America, if Mr. Obama has anything to do with it, none of this will be repeated. Columnist Mark Steyn asks, “Does anyone really believe a second-term Obama administration is going to build anything? Yes, you, madam, the gullible sap in the back in the faded hope’n’change T-shirt. You seriously think your guy is going to put up another Hoover Dam? Let me quote one Deanna Archuleta, Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, in a speech to Democratic environmentalists in Nevada: ‘You will never see another federal dam.’”
There is a disturbing aspect in Mr. Obama’s speech other than praising the building of dams that will never be built. We may have touched the surface of the moon as Americans but Mr. Obama has ended that NASA program. Astronauts now have to speak Russian or Chinese. We may have, as Americans, unlocked the secret of the atom — the British contributed a goodly amount of the science that made that possible — but Mr. Obama has killed the program to store nuclear waste thus ending any chance of building new nuclear power plants.
Let’s face it. America is out of the can-do business. It took just 15 months to build the Empire State Building in 1930-1931. Replacing the buildings at the World Trade Center site will take between 10 and 14 years. There is a message in those two timelines.
Mr. Obama can dream all he wants but his soaring rhetoric won’t change the reality. If you want to build something today you must first go hat in hand to the various Assistant Deputy Secretaries, then to the Deputy Under Secretaries, and finally to all the Under Secretaries in the Offices of Bureaucratic Compliance in the Departments of the Interior, The Environmental Protection Agency, The Fish and Wildlife Service, The Bureau of Land Management, The Corp of Engineers, The Bureau of Reclamation, The U.S. Park Service, and the Department of Commerce. If you should, against all odds, find yourself heading out of Washington with an armful of bureaucratic approvals, don’t relax. Mr. Obama can still scuttle your project if he feels the need to fortify his standing with the environmental extremists. (See Canadian experience with the Keystone Pipeline as latest example.)
Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is filled with visions of things to come; so was Franklin Roosevelt’s, Mr. Obama’s liberal paradigm. But Roosevelt didn’t just dream. He helped light all of rural America with Rural Electrification Administration sponsored coal-fired electric generation stations. Mr. Obama is tearing down coal-fired power plants.
Mr. Roosevelt oversaw the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the great public-private projects in the history of the world. TVA was a regional economic development agency that ultimately helped salvage the economy of seven states. There were 29 power-producing hydropower facilities that supplied the massive amounts of electricity necessary for the aluminum plants that supplied the planes and implements of war that subdued Nazi Germany and Japan. Now we tear down dams as an act of environmental virtue — more than 200 in the last decade.
The future Mr. Roosevelt imagined the Missouri Valley Flood Control and Development project that helped regenerate the economy of the upper Midwest. This massive TVA of the Midwest still protects cities along the Missouri and provides renewable energy to the upper Midwest with massive dams with names that take us back to a different age: Fort Peck, Garrison, Oahe, Big Bend, Fort Randall and Gavin’s Point. Mr. Obama’s imagination seems limited to obesity counseling centers, condom dispensing machines in churches and financing Brazilian oil drilling in the Atlantic.
Mr. Obama’s rhetoric sometimes soars, but given the reality that he is helping create the rhetoric sometimes sounds a bit ridiculous; a bit out of touch with reality.