I find it truly comforting that some things never change — and two of those things are President Obama’s ideas and rhetoric. Obama’s long-awaited jobs speech offered his usual mix of hyper-partisanship (no longer convincingly masquerading as post-partisanship), class warfare, and thinly veiled resentment that, in our form of government, he cannot simply do whatever he wants.
But after many weeks of buildup and two years of arguably the worst post-recession recovery in six decades, the real tip-off that Obama is utterly incapable of changing course was when he again referred, Saturday Night Live-like, to fast trains. It’s now clear that this president’s idea of moving toward the center is staying away from the parts of the faculty lounge that border either the windows or the door. His disconnectedness from most Americans’ concerns, and from their way of thinking, becomes clearer by the day.
In addition to its stale, insular quality, the most striking thing about Obama’s speech was its petulant tone. Here is an edited version of the remarks he made to the 535 men and women who compose our nation’s legislative branch, from inside one of their chambers (the actual tone of his voice only added to the overall effect):
“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, and fellow Americans….The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy….I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation….You should pass this jobs plan right away….
“[W]hile corporate profits have come roaring back, smaller companies haven’t. So for everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for ‘job creators,’ this plan is for you….You should pass it right away….
“Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us a economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?...The American Jobs Act…will jumpstart thousands of transportation projects all across the country….You should pass it right away….
“I know that some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away….
“This approach is basically the one I’ve been advocating for months….[I]t’s a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by…reforming our tax code in a way that asks the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share…I am also — I’m also well aware that there are many Republicans who don’t believe we should raise taxes on those who are most fortunate and can best afford it….This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math. [At this point, the transcript reads, “(Laughter.)”]….
“We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. Founder of the Republican Party. But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future — a Republican President who mobilized government to build the Transcontinental Railroad….
“[M]embers of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities….[T]his plan is the right thing to do right now. You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country….”
Yesterday evening — really for the first time — as I heard Barack Obama, I found myself thinking “Jimmy Carter.” In the wake of Obama’s latest effort, it now seems quite possible that he is well on his way to ending Carter’s 3-decade reign as the most recent president in whom the American people overwhelmingly lost confidence even before the end of his first term.