Obama's Rhetorical Retreat

Has reality finally caught up with the president?


Tax credits? Spending freezes? Deficit commissions? The president is starting to sound a lot like one of those fiscal he-devils the Democrats have been warning the nation about for years.

Not to worry, true believers, Barack Obama only sounds as if he's making sense. The proposed three-year freeze sham accounts for less than a measly one-sixth of the federal budget, and the deficit panel already has been voted down in the Senate.

But sounding like you mean it is half the battle—as the Republican Party has learned over the past 15 years. And one of the major political missteps of the Obama administration has been confusing the agenda of the progressive left with that of the American electorate.

A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, for example, finds that more than 80 percent of adults believe that jobs and the economy should be the two top priorities of Washington—issues that were used to further the administration's no-serious-crisis-left-behind project and little else.

To my astonishment, nowhere in the Pew poll could I find the words "Copenhagen," "worldwide presidential apology tour," "Chicago Olympic bid," "social justice," "bankers make too much dough," or even "bail out GM; America needs the Acadia." Still, these subjects were a matter of considerable urgency and expended political capital in Washington this year.

Perhaps it's self-delusion. After all, the number of times Obama has affixed the word "urgent" to his own agenda is unquantifiable. Cap and trade was "urgent." On the campaign trail, in fact, Obama claimed that "few challenges facing America … are more urgent than combating climate change."

And this is true, if by "few" the president means 20 other issues, as the Pew poll puts global warming 21st on the urgent policy list—or, in other words, last.

Just as "urgent action" was needed to pass the government stimulus plan to bump unemployment to a more numerically manageable 10 percent, the rising cost of health care—an important issue once the president decides to address it—was Washington's responsibility to fix because it was a "longstanding and urgent problem."

According to Pew, health care reform falls in behind "economy," "jobs," "terrorism," "education," "deficit reduction," "Medicare," "Social Security," and so on. All of them urgent.

You will, almost certainly, not be surprised to learn that a deficit reduction commission, according to the president, is "urgent," as the country faces a serious fiscal crisis, all of which, even a year later, is the Bush administration's fault because it failed "to pay for new policies."

One empathizes. Yet this grievance would hold more water if the Obama administration hadn't spent more than any presidential administration in history has in its first year. Let's also remember that this dubious feat was accomplished without passing two of the most expensive pieces of legislative items on the statist menu.

Now, with the shadow of Scott Brown descending on D.C., we're in for a rhetorical recalibration. Obama will sound like an ardent fiscal conservative while simultaneously ratcheting up populist anger regarding banks, risk, profits, and make-believe unfettered capitalism.

Do Americans feel an urgent need to stick it to the investor class? Financial regulations rank as the 15th-most important concern, behind "helping the poor," "moral decline," and "crime." So I doubt it. But we'll see what happens.

Yet it is difficult to deny that after only one year in power, the administration has been forced to admit its vision of economic intervention has been soundly rejected. All one needs to do is listen.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at


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  1. It would appear this president, more so than recent others, would like to shape what the public concerns are, rather than address them.

    Therefore they’ll be reading that Pew poll upside down.

  2. What about the death panels? Are they out or in?

    1. Out and proud, baby!

    2. How about death panels for departments that can’t cut their budget?

      1. Those departments can’t function without diversity training and you damn well know it…

  3. Yep, tonight our Messianic Dear Leader is going to try to fool the American people once again by remaking himself as an Elmer Gantry style populist.

    I don’t think he’s going to be able to pull it off though. He lies through his teeth, but I don’t think he has quite the gift for it like Bill Clinton did.

    1. Its a style thing. Obama is way too much the academic lefty technocrat to pull off an angry-populist shtick with any credibility.

      1. Not even if the teleprompter goes to bold font for the angry-sounding parts?

        1. +1

  4. What do you mean I don’t have a gift?

    1. Black, with two sugars.

      1. Great line! +20!

  5. TOOTUS has given three speeches to joint sessions of Congress in his first year. The man does like the sound of his own voice.

  6. Obviously, me and the rest of the people are not intelligent enough to deal with all the corporate free speech about to come our way, why should we be smart enough to decide what the President’s agenda should be. He knows what we need better than we do.

    I’m prepared to have my intelligence insulted over and over again. I guess I’m used to it by now.

    1. No, we are verym very dumb. So dumb in fact that we need to government to tell us what to eat, and how to buy health insurance. I am so glad that I live in a country that saves me from myself, or I think I would just walk off into the woods and freeze to death.

  7. These draconian cuts This spending freeze would harm the weakest among us – teh children.

    Wha…? 1/6 of the budget? Oh – never mind.

  8. according to Krugman, Obama is a Reaganite. Of course, Reagan did have big deficits (at the time – now, they would be practically surpluses) which is suppose to be wonderful (the big deficits), except when a republican does it…uh, because …it funds killing blind orphan babies.
    I fully expect Krugman will soon complain that Obama is white. Oh yeah, he IS part white. OK, Krugman will reveal that Obama is all white…no, wait. Obama is a Japanese robot…programmed by Goldman Sachs… Anyway, its all just a big conspiracy to make Krugman’s life miserable. Its heartbreaking for Krugman to know exactly how everybody should think and live, and they are too stupid to appreciate his deep, deep Nobel winning thoughts.

    1. “it funds killing blind orphan babies”

      Well they can’t just kill themselves.

    2. Deficits have only mattered to Krugman when it has been politically expedient for them to matter to Krugman

  9. I don’t think he’s going to be able to pull it off though. He lies through his teeth, but I don’t think he has quite the gift for it like Bill Clinton did.

    He’s going to “explain” our “anger” and “resentment” to us, I hear. That works in cults, on the kind of people who join cults. Clinton was too smart to try and pull that shit on random strangers. Showing them your wang has a better percentage.

    All it can do is solidify Obama’s fans’ opinion of themselves as separate and superior to the “us” he’ll “explain”?and everyone else’s opinion that he’s a douchebag. Culty base-hardening strategies are a caucus move, not a State of the Union (who’s sick of his shit) move. It’s the opposite of what Clinton would do now.

    I can hear Hillary cackling from my house.

  10. Last spring we had to have all seven hundred billion of the McHopey because to do anything less would lead to disaster. Now, a year later we are being told that we have to freeze spending even though the economy still hasn’t recovered and we were told last year that government spending was the only way it ever could recover. So, was he lying then or now?

  11. damn libertarians spend too much time focused on reality and not nearly enough hoping for change.

    Yes we can!

  12. David forgot the Beer Summit in his list of Obama priorities.

  13. In a year of no accomplishments and one which is memorable for the number of appearances Obama has made, it would seem reasonable to conclude he has become famous for being famous. I expect Obama will be more remembered for his rhetorical mechanisms instead of accomplishments like Paris Hilton will be know for saying “that’s hot” rather than any of her “accomplishments”.

    1. All he needs is a good unauthorized sex tape to hit the internet.

  14. President Obama’s Theme song during his State of the Union speech:

  15. What he should have said:


    [wild applause]

  16. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke.

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