Really understanding President Obama's governing philosophy and agenda doesn't require a whole fleet of investigative reporters or opposition researchers. All you have to do is take a reasonably careful look at his campaign stump speech, a collection of half-truths, misrepresentations, and distortions that are ultimately disrespectful of the American people.
"This is my last political campaign…I'm term limited," he said Saturday at Centreville High School in Clifton, Virginia in remarks that were similar to others he's delivered in recent weeks. It could be. But nothing prevents Obama from trying to return to the Senate after his presidency, or from trying to run for the office again if he loses this time.
"My grandfather fought in World War II…when my grandfather came back, he was able to go to college because of the GI Bill and they were able to afford their first home through an FHA loan." There's no mention by Obama in the stump speech of his other grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, a Kenyan cook who had five wives and converted to Islam. Also, Obama seems unable to imagine that his American grandfather might have found some way to afford a home without the help of the FHA, as many Americans somehow miraculously did before the FHA was created in 1934.
"At the center of our stories is this basic American idea, this core American Dream… It means maybe you can take a vacation once in a while … And it means that you can retire with some dignity and some respect. It's that basic bargain that makes this country great." President Obama has turned the American Dream of freedom and opportunity and hard work into a dream of vacation and retirement.
"How do we build an economy where hard work pays off—whether you're starting a business or punching a clock, you know that if you put in the effort, you'll get ahead?" President Obama would be better off taking the advice of Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in their book That Used To Be Us: "American young people have got to understand from an early age that the world pays off on results, not on effort." A world in which effort alone always pays off for everyone just isn't a possible or even desirable reality. If it were, every Little Leaguer would be a professional baseball player.
"My opponent and his congressional allies, they believe in what I call top-down economics. Their basic view is that if we cut taxes trillions of dollars, mostly for those at the very top — even if it means cutting education funding, even if it means cutting basic research, even if it means underfunding our infrastructure, and even if it means making Medicare a voucher system — that somehow that's going to be good for everybody. So that's one big part of their idea, is you cut taxes for folks at the top." This mischaracterizes Mitt Romney's tax plan. In fact, on capital gains, dividends, and interest income taxes, Romney takes the rate down to zero for single filers below $100,000 annual income and joint filers with income below $200,000. If you earn more than that, you don't get the zero rate, a point for which Romney was attacked by his Republican opponents and by conservative commentators during the primary campaign. As for "cutting education funding," when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, state education spending grew to $6,297,000,000 in 2007 from $5,250,000,000 in 2004, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. And as President Obama himself has more or less admitted in the past, a lot of the increased federal education spending just allows colleges and universities to increase their tuitions by the amount of the increased federal aid.
"Their second big idea is if you eliminate regulations on oil companies or insurance companies or credit card companies or polluters, that somehow that will free up the engine of growth. …Now, there's nothing wrong with having an idea, a theory, and testing it out. Here's the thing: We tested it out for almost a decade. We've tried this before. And guess what, Virginia, it did not work." Obama's idea that the George W. Bush years were a vast failed experiment in deregulation is just laughably false, as anyone familiar with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 can assure you.
"When the auto industry was on the brink of collapse, my opponent said, let's let Detroit go bankrupt. I said, let's bet on American workers and American ingenuity. And you know what, GM is number one again. Chrysler is selling cars again. Ford is on the move. The U.S. auto industry has come roaring back.… We've invested in advanced manufacturing because we want to beat out countries like Germany and China." Obama doesn't mention that the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies took place on his watch and at his urging. Toyota and Honda and Volkswagen and BMW manufacture plenty of cars in America. If you are an auto worker at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga or a Toyota plant in Kentucky, or if you are an American who owns a KIA or Mercedes dealership, why should you cheer President Obama taking your tax dollars to bail out your failed competitors? President Obama also doesn't mention that his "bet" on "American ingenuity" when it came to Chrysler involved giving control of it to Fiat, which is an Italian company.
"I think we should have comprehensive immigration reform because we're a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws." But President Obama doesn't mention that he made immigration reform such a low priority that he didn't get it done even when his party controlled both houses of Congress. And, on immigration, Obama's definition of "nation of laws" also apparently includes choosing not to enforce some of them.
"If you've got health insurance the only thing that happens for you is that you've got more security because insurance companies can't jerk you around and use fine print to somehow restrict your care." Not so. Some insurers have raised rates or gotten out of the health insurance business. Some employers will stop offering insurance.
Politicians are entitled to a certain amount of shading of the truth as a kind of professional privilege. The voters discount for it. But challenges from the press corps or from the Romney campaign would help the electorate better understand how Obama's stump speech is full of stretchers, even by the expansive standards of American politics.