Obama’s unremarkable speech

To put President Obama’s unremarkable speech last night to the Democratic National Convention in full context, you have to pair it with this morning’s jobs report, which fell short of analysts’ expectations. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal put it:

U.S. job growth slowed in August, a sign of a slack recovery that could slow any postconvention momentum for President Barack Obama and spur the Federal Reserve to take further steps in an effort to stimulate the economy.

U.S. payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 96,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The politically important unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, fell to 8.1% from 8.3%, mainly because of more people dropping out of the work force.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected a gain of 125,000 in payrolls and an 8.3% jobless rate.

That growth is below this year’s monthly average (139,000), which is below last year’s monthly average (153,000). The only thing that keeps this report from being an outright disaster for the president is that a number of people will look at the lower headline unemployment rate and not understand that it fell chiefly because — three years into the “recovery” — a whole lot of people gave up looking for work and thus aren’t included in the figure.

And yet Obama, who may or may not have known last night what today’s jobs figures would be, gave a speech not full of new ideas for the next four years but full of exhortations to stay the course. A course, of course, that a large majority of Americans deem to be in the wrong direction.

It was striking, actually, how much Obama’s speech sounded like so many of his other speeches from the past four years. Just keep spending more, especially on items like (crony-capitalist) alternative energy; raise taxes on the rich; and all shall be well. On policy, it was like a greatest hits album — by the likes of Blind Melon or Marcy Playground. Even the rhetoric was weighed down by the sense we’ve heard it all before.

Here we had the World’s Greatest Orator Ever giving a speech that, if all goes well for the Democrats, will be less remembered than the one Bill Clinton gave the night before. Clinton’s speech was mostly a barn-burner, even if it was too long by about 15 minutes and bogged down in the middle as he wonkily tried to convince the public — and at times, it seemed, himself — that the Obama presidency has been a success. And even if it included some damn-with-faint-praise lines, such as the one where he said “no president, not me … could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years” (my emphasis). I don’t know about you, but that came across my TV set with an understood “even” — as in, “I know y’all think I could have done better, but even I couldn’t have done this job. So you can’t blame little ol’ Barack for not getting ‘er done.”

Message: Are you better off than four years ago? No? Well, you never were going to be! Ouch.

And yet, Obama’s speech was so flat that Democrats have to consider it preferable for voters to remember lines like that one from Clinton’s speech. It was so blah, in fact, that both conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi said on Fox News last night that Vice President Joe Biden’s speech was better.

Maybe the Mayans were right.

As far as crowing about achievements, there were a few oblique references to Obamacare and the auto bailouts. And the trade agreements he’s signed, all of which were negotiated by George Bush. A labor union-supported Democrat pledging to push for more trade agreements, when he hasn’t even negotiated any in his first term? It’s come to this.

There wasn’t a whole lot else of note. The most concrete accomplishments he pointed out had to do with foreign policy: ending the war in Iraq (on Bush’s previously agreed timeline) and continuing to fight Bush’s war on terror, albeit by another name. Oh, and killing Osama bin Laden. Boy, did Obama and Biden spike that football last night.

One interesting side note is how much time Obama spent talking about our soldiers overseas. Much was made of the fact Mitt Romney didn’t mention them in his speech last week — although he did make references to SEAL Team Six and to strengthening our military — and the Obama campaign clearly thought there were some points to be scored in being much more explicit in talking about the troops. Maybe so.

But in laying out his agenda for Jan. 21, 2013, onward, Obama mostly framed his existing policies as a contrast to what Romney would do. For instance: “I refuse to ask middle class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut.” Never mind that Romney hasn’t proposed ending those tax credits, either; that was the implication. And things like that were about all he had.

If “Change” in 2008 amounted to “I’m not George Bush,” then “Change” in 2012 seems to mean “I won’t be Mitt Romney.”

The good news for Obama is that not a lot of votes are likely to have shifted due to either convention. If I had to give an edge to one, I would give a very slight edge to Romney simply because the RNC did a better job of revealing his softer, more personal side than the DNC did of convincing us there will be new ideas for the next four years coming from Obama. But that just as well could have been neutralized by greater enthusiasm for Obama among his base, which clearly was the target audience all week.

No, this close race will probably boil down to one of three things: a big mistake by one man or the other; an external event that changes the dynamic of the race (I’m thinking about Lehman Bros. in 2008, and I’m looking at you, Israel); or the head-to-head comparison we’ll get in the debates. We’ve got just under two months to go.

– By Kyle Wingfield

507 comments Add your comment

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 7th, 2012
10:15 am

We still have two more jobs reports between now and election day.

Calm and steady wins the race.

Kyle Wingfield

September 7th, 2012
10:22 am

Finn: Yes, but they might be too late to change voters’ beliefs about the state of the economy. Two good data points don’t make a trend. And the second one will come just days before the election, when a whole lot of minds will already be made up. (OK, the vast majority of minds probably already are made up, but I’m talking about today’s undecideds.)

JF McNamara

September 7th, 2012
10:23 am

I find it ironic that you framed this as same old, same old but didn’t attack some of the criticisms he leveled at Romney.

Fact is, Romney will raise my taxes or cut my services in order to give tax breaks to the rich. I’m not voting for higher taxes for myself while other get breaks. I will never, ever, ever do it. There is no other solution other than higher taxes for me in Romney’s plan, so NO to him. If he raises taxes on everyone, then fine, but I’m not taking the short end of the stick just to make rich people happy. If you’re middle class and vote for that, shame on you.

Kyle Wingfield

September 7th, 2012
10:31 am

JF: No, that’s not a “fact.” He could, for instance, just lower all revenues. You could argue against the wisdom of doing that, but it’s certainly an option you didn’t consider.

Oh, and he just might do what he said he would do, which is to maintain revenue neutrality and not lower the share of the tax burden borne by the wealthy. But I don’t guess you would consider that a possibility.

Alex

September 7th, 2012
10:32 am

Actually, I’m better off than four years ago. Some of Pres. Obama’s policies have made the life of my family and my life somewhat better. Do I think he has done well on the economy? No, I think he could have done way better. Do I think Mitt will do better? Yes, I think he would do slightly better. But I don’t think Mitt would do better than Pres. Obama overall.

Unfortunately, or fortunately for some, I see four more years of the same coming our way.

Commonscents

September 7th, 2012
10:47 am

Kyle,

so you point out that Romney may:

1. Raise middle class taxes or cut services in order to give tax breaks to the rich.

2. Lower all revenues(not wise).

3. Or maintain revenue neutrality and not lower the share of the tax burden borne by the wealthy.(this has proven not to work).

Therefore, JF McNamara proved why the middle class should not vote for Romney.

Bruno

September 7th, 2012
10:50 am

Here we had the World’s Greatest Orator Ever giving a speech that, if all goes well for the Democrats, will be less remembered than the one Bill Clinton gave the night before. Clinton’s speech was mostly a barn-burner, even if it was too long by about 15 minutes and bogged down in the middle as he wonkily tried to convince the public — and at times, it seemed, himself — that the Obama presidency has been a success.

There’s no doubt that Clinton’s speech upstaged Obama’s by a “country” mile.

And even if it included some damn-with-faint-praise lines, such as the one where he said “no president, not me … could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years” (my emphasis). I don’t know about you, but that came across my TV set with an understood “even” — as in, “I know y’all think I could have done better, but even I couldn’t have done this job. So you can’t blame little ol’ Barack for not getting ‘er done.”

Yet, as you highlight here, Kyle, the underlying message on the Democrat side is ultimately depressing. The economy isn’t where any of us expected at this point, and, rightly or wrongly, the Dems have to take responsibility.

Both Clinton’s and Obama’s speeches were heavy on warm and fuzzy platitudes (We’re all in this together, we have to pick up the slack for the less fortunate, etc.). That may have won a few extra votes in the 1960s or 70s, but I don’t see it carrying much weight these days. Most people are far more concerned about their own personal financial situation than how anyone else is doing. As such, the only poll result that means anything these days is the one in which people overwhelmingly state that they believe Romney can be trusted more on economic issues than Obama.

Kyle Wingfield

September 7th, 2012
10:53 am

Commonscents: I didn’t mean to suggest those are the only options. Just that JF had not identified the only two options.

JF McNamara

September 7th, 2012
10:56 am

@Kyle,

Lowering all “revenues” would do nothing more then send the deficit higher faster.

I do consider what Romney said a possibility, but what’s the purpose of changing the existing structure if you keep the burden the same on everyone? You’ve wasted time and effort to achieve the same result. I think its naive to believe the claim, because he’s being paid by the rich right now to cut taxes for them.

Unless he’s going to skyrocket the deficit, it is a fact that my bill will increase while the wealthy get a break. It may come in the form of a fee or service reduction or simplification or some back door method Republicans use to frame a tax increase but it will get me somehow. We have bills that someone has to pay, and if they pay less I will pay more.

I’m for raising taxes on everyone. End the insanity. If you want it, pay for it. If not, cut it.

Del

September 7th, 2012
10:56 am

Romney/Ryan have at their disposal a tremendous amount of fire power now at their disposal and according to sources a far better war chest to distribute that fire power. Here in the final stretch of this race hopefully the Romney campaign will use it wisely and effectively.

Bruno

September 7th, 2012
10:57 am

On a more personal note, the Libs have been trying to make a lot of political hay about the composition of the audience at the DNC vs that of the RNC. To my eye, whenever they panned the DNC audience, all I saw were a bunch of losers. A bunch of unintelligent, obese folks who jumped up and down at every empty point made by the speakers. The sight of people openly weeping during corny political speeches left me laughing and shaking my head. Are they really that gullible over on the Dem side??

Kyle Wingfield

September 7th, 2012
10:58 am

“what’s the purpose of changing the existing structure if you keep the burden the same on everyone?”

JF: You’re missing an important distinction here. The burden may be the same on “the rich” as a class, but it may differ among members of the rich. Why is that important? Because the tax code today does way too much to shape economic decision-making, in ways that aren’t necessarily economically efficient. It rewards political influence — lobbying — over economic sense. Ending that, or at least greatly reducing it, is very much worthwhile imo.

Michael H. Smith

September 7th, 2012
10:59 am

Spot on with the title Kyle. It says everything about Obama and his failures. The real jobs picture is far worse than numbers indicate, otherwise the situation would not have drawn as much attention as it has from the FED.

Obama gave no clear decisive plan to go forward in his speech, only a few glib negative comments aimed at Republicans. Which is not what is needed to get this country and our economy headed in the right direction. As the majority of Americans agree, things aren’t better now than they were four years ago and the country is going down the wrong path.

I’m with you majority, it is time to change directions once again from the dismal detour we took four years ago.

One other thing Kyle, Obama wants to lower student loan costs as a way to reduce college tuition by cutting what the banks charge when he could have just as easily tell universities and their professors that they shall receive the same treatment as doctors and hospital under ObamaCare that will only be paid about half the amount due to them.

See, isn’t socialist fascism a great way to deliver on the socialist justice of fair share policies. :lol:

Bruno

September 7th, 2012
11:01 am

Here in the final stretch of this race hopefully the Romney campaign will use it wisely and effectively.

Del–Leading up to the RNC, I was extremely critical of the Romney campaign. Based on the number of unforced gaffes, he seemed determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He seemed to elevate his game a bit at the convention, and can only hope that his handlers keep him focused these next two months.

They BOTH suck

September 7th, 2012
11:04 am

Bruno

You could tell they were losers by looking at them? WOW

As for crying, Fox showed a clip the other day of people crying during Romney’s speech.

Except for a few clips after the fact on CNN and Fox, I did what I did for the last several elections and will do for future elections, watched not one minute of those party infomercials.

JDW

September 7th, 2012
11:06 am

@Kyle…”Oh, and he just might do what he said he would do, which is to maintain revenue neutrality and not lower the share of the tax burden borne by the wealthy. But I don’t guess you would consider that a possibility.”

Unless he plans on suspending the laws of basic arithmetic that is not a possibility.

As Clinton pointed out there are only three possibilities….

One-”assuming they try to do what they say they’ll do, get rid of — pay — cover it by deductions, cutting those deductions, one, they’ll have to eliminate so many deductions, like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving, that middle-class families will see their tax bills go up an average of $2,000 while anybody who makes $3 million or more will see their tax bill go down $250,000.”

Two-”they’ll have to cut so much spending that they’ll obliterate the budget for the national parks, for ensuring clean air, clean water, safe food, safe air travel. They’ll cut way back on Pell Grants, college loans, early childhood education, child nutrition programs, all the programs that help to empower middle-class families and help poor kids. Oh, they’ll cut back on investments in roads and bridges and science and technology and biomedical research.”

Three-”in spite of all the rhetoric, they’ll just do what they’ve been doing for more than 30 years. They’ll go in and cut the taxes way more than they cut spending, especially with that big defense increase, and they’ll just explode the debt and weaken the economy.”

Now the Republicans have already given us their prescription for what ails us…take two tax cuts and roll back some regulations…didn’t work then won’t work now. In fact it produced quite the “hangover”

Dusty

September 7th, 2012
11:07 am

Well, President Obama’s speech reminds me of the story of Wrong-way Corrigan. Corrigan said he was flying to California but landed in Ireland!

Like Corrigan,the president promised to take us to the “promise land” but we end up in the faltering hinter lands without promise. .

Yes, the president has already misdirected one” trip” and dropped uis off at the wrong location.

I’m certainly not planning to take any more trips with Wrong-way Obama.. Don’t want to land with the likes of Ireland. (and Spain and Greece).

Bruno

September 7th, 2012
11:08 am

Obama gave no clear decisive plan to go forward in his speech, only a few glib negative comments aimed at Republicans.

MHS–The commentary following the speech at MSNBC vs. at FoxNews was extremely telling. Rachael Maddow, Chris Matthews, et. al over at MSNBC were in full Messiah Worship mode, proclaiming that Obama had clearly flattened the Repubs. Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer at Fox accurately noted the absence of specifics in Obama’s speech, and detailed how he had vastly downgraded previous promises.

But, as I noted above, the Dem crowd doesn’t seem very bright to me. A few bon mots, and they’re mesmerized. Style over substance all the way. Which may play well to the party faithful, but most likely won’t win over the few undecided voters. As I keep saying, I think people are going to vote with their wallets this go round.

MarkV

September 7th, 2012
11:09 am

There is again the outcry that the job report “fell short of analysts’ expectations,” as if that were a criterion. The job report was disappointing unless you realize that it means that almost a million more jobs were created last month than in January 2009, when Obama took office.

Centrist

September 7th, 2012
11:09 am

Commonscents

September 7th, 2012
11:09 am

Bruno,

Only thing I saw at the two conventions were Americans.

Centrist

September 7th, 2012
11:10 am

Corrected link – Even liberal AP “factcheckers” panned some of the whoppers in this speech:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h7NDhQyY6krI3yW9gwp1RaehdVvg?docId=aee2b9a16a134d2d8fdb73e4fa0a8a2d

Centrist

September 7th, 2012
11:11 am

Bruno

September 7th, 2012
11:11 am

You could tell they were losers by looking at them? WOW

Yes, it’s a gift, I know……. ;-)

As for crying, Fox showed a clip the other day of people crying during Romney’s speech.

If that happened, I missed it. But, to be honest, I watched a lot more of the DNC than the RNC.

Del

September 7th, 2012
11:11 am

Bruno,

His campaign was holding back and allowing Obama and the Democrats about 5 months to label him an out of touch rich guy extremest. Romney almost let them successfully complete that strategy. There was a turning point which may have been the early announcement of Ryan or maybe the convention. Either way with these dismal economic numbers and his campaign evidently flush with money his campaign must aggressively get into the swing states with a focus on the economy and Obama’s failure to turn it around.

Kyle Wingfield

September 7th, 2012
11:12 am

JDW: You, Clinton and everyone else ignore the potential growth effects of the policy. See here for one discussion of those effects. Here’s another look at why the plan is mathematically possible.

Michael H. Smith

September 7th, 2012
11:13 am

Speaking of a bunch of unintelligent losers… The Democratic National Committee suspended the rules of the convention and inserted language regarding God and the State of Israel back to its platform.

This clip reveals what the religious bigots of the Anti-God anti-Israel Party truly think. I stand by my previous comment: Every Catholic, Protestant, Baptist and Jew should vote Obama and the democrats out of office.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZJvcjni8-U

Kyle Wingfield

September 7th, 2012
11:14 am

MarkV @ 11:09: So, a comparison to the depths of an economic crisis is more appropriate than a comparison to what economists thought would happen based on recent economic data? OK.

MarkV

September 7th, 2012
11:16 am

A sure sign of a lack of intelligence: calling people you see only on the TV screen losers, unintelligent, obese folks.

Michael H. Smith

September 7th, 2012
11:17 am

The FED isn’t ready to jump in and take action because the economic picture is better than what the “NEGATIVE” job numbers reveal.

Bruno

September 7th, 2012
11:17 am

Only thing I saw at the two conventions were Americans.

Commonscents–In case you missed it, Obama and the Libs have been attempting to divide our nation for the past 4 years by class, race, culture, etc. In particular, race has been needlessly injected into nearly every discussion, last night being no exception over at MSNBC, in which criticism of welfare was equated with racism by Al Sharpton and the other commentators. I think a little turnabout is fair play.

MarkV

September 7th, 2012
11:17 am

Kyle Wingfield @ 11:14 am

Yes.

JDW

September 7th, 2012
11:18 am

@Kyle…”You, Clinton and everyone else ignore the potential growth effects of the policy. See here for one discussion of those effects. Here’s another look at why the plan is mathematically possible.”

:roll: Name one tax cut that created enough growth to reduce the deficit…not Reagan’s not Duhbya’s…

Michael H. Smith

September 7th, 2012
11:19 am

The lack of intelligence is not in calling things what they are. It is in denying and lying about what they are not!

JDW

September 7th, 2012
11:21 am

@Kyle

One the other hand…Reagan and Bush both increased spending by more than 6.5%…that drives growth. Clinton raised taxes enough to balance the budget and that drives growth.

Lowering taxes without spending increases driving growth NEVER HAPPENED.

Brosephus™

September 7th, 2012
11:22 am

Never mind that Romney hasn’t proposed ending those tax credits, either; that was the implication.

In truth, Romney hasn’t explicitly proposed anything beyond the tax cuts and increased military spending. One is left with assumptions of how he’s going to pull those things off, and there are only so many different ways it can be done. If he doesn’t increase taxes somewhere else to offset the decline in revenues, he’s going to have to increase spending cuts by the same amounts. If he doesn’t go that route, then he will increase the budget deficit by the amount of the decreased revenues. I don’t find that one plausible because the Tea Party and Conservative Congressional members wouldn’t sign off on budgets that increased the deficits and debt year after year, would they?

MarkV

September 7th, 2012
11:22 am

A lack of intelligence is in making insulting assumptions based on appearance.

Stephenson Billings

September 7th, 2012
11:22 am

yuzeyurbrane

September 7th, 2012
11:24 am

Great speech. Not surprised it did not sway any of your so-called “conservative” bloggers. Your article was considered and temperate Kyle, but your con bloggers are just seething with vitriol. Wonder what it is about Obama particularly that gets them so enraged? Anyway, his speech and the whole DNC will regenerate his base as well as appealing to a clear majority of moderates, both Republican and independents. I won’t say Obama’s reelection is a shoe-in but it his race to lose now. Unknowns include the impact of Sheldon Adelson and Koch brothers mega-bucks propaganda campaign and whether something will happen internationally that is unpredictable. Barring those factors, the debates will be key but the burden will be on Romney to score a big win or Obama just to fall flat on his face. Based on past performances, I just don’t see it happening. Now, are you con posters going to use your “2nd Amendment remedies” after Obama wins? Or are you just going to continue civil disobedience in the form of your obstructionist members of Congress?

Del

September 7th, 2012
11:26 am

Tax cuts stimulate the economy and while that has been proven, tax cuts won’t cure the deficit issue. The only cure for the deficit is serious spending cuts along with entitlement reform. Certainly tax increases won’t only fail to stimulate the economy but also do nothing for the deficit.

They BOTH suck

September 7th, 2012
11:27 am

Bruno

I can’t stomach watching it. I just catch the news, internet and of course Kyle and Bookman’s blog.

I’m going to see Charlie Wilson (Gap Band) tomorrow night.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSLGFL3Xa30

Have a great weekend

Stephenson Billings

September 7th, 2012
11:31 am

FACT CHECK: Obama and the phantom peace dividend

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20120907/DA14MN4G0.html

GOP left the country in a mess. They said Obama did not clean it up fast enough. Kick him out and let us back in. (Huh)

September 7th, 2012
11:32 am

@Bruno

September 7th, 2012
10:57 am
On a more personal note, the Libs have been trying to make a lot of political hay about the composition of the audience at the DNC vs that of the RNC. To my eye, whenever they panned the DNC audience, all I saw were a bunch of losers. A bunch of unintelligent, obese folks who jumped up and down at every empty point made by the speakers. The sight of people openly weeping during corny political speeches left me laughing and shaking my head. Are they really that gullible over on the Dem side??

****************************************************************************

One could say the same about the RNC audience.

To my eye, all I saw were a bunch of losers.

A bunch of angry, backwoods, uneducated, unintelligent, mountain dew teeth,

obese folks who jumped up and down at every empty point made by the speakers.

No one was openly weeping because none of the political speeches had any emotion.

Are they really that gullible over on the CON side??

Stephenson Billings

September 7th, 2012
11:32 am

JF McNamara

September 7th, 2012
11:33 am

@ Kyle,

I laughed out loud at your comment. So we’re going to reshuffle the deck and pick new winners and losers among the rich people? You don’t think that the lobbyist will write that new tax code to make it more favorable for themselves especially after they’ve just financed the election that got Republicans in office?

They BOTH suck

September 7th, 2012
11:34 am

GOP left

I ask you the same thing as I did Bruno, you were able to determine someone was a loser from tv? WOW

With those awesome skills, do you also know the numbers to the megamillion lottery tonight?

Kyle Wingfield

September 7th, 2012
11:34 am

JF @ 11:33: And I LOL’d at yours, because my point is that we’re going to stop picking winners and losers among the rich people, which is what we’re doing now.

Stephenson Billings

September 7th, 2012
11:35 am

Del

September 7th, 2012
11:36 am

Romney’s proposing tax reform with reductions in rates to broaden the base and to close tax loop holes that have encouraged corporations to focus investments overseas and keep money there instead of here. As for the military a presidents number one priority is national security and cutting the military doesn’t achieve that priority. There’s considerable waste in the DOD and that should be the focus not downsizing the military.

Kyle Wingfield

September 7th, 2012
11:36 am

JDW @ 11:21: To borrow from Chesterton: It’s not that it’s been tried and found wanting, but rather that it’s been found difficult and not tried.