Barack Obama has made an incredible run for the presidency against long odds of success. He has almost dismantled the formidable Clinton machine and exposed Hillary Clinton as a surprisingly mediocre politician, doing his party at least two very large favors. Obama has succeeded by promising hope and change, but as Robert Samuelson and Dana Milbank report, that mostly exists as rhetoric:
Whatever one thinks of these ideas, they’re standard goody-bag politics: something for everyone. They’re so similar to many Clinton proposals that her campaign put out a news release accusing Obama of plagiarizing. With existing budget deficits and the costs of Obama’s “universal health plan,” the odds of enacting his full package are slim.
A favorite Obama line is that he will tell “the American people not just what they want to hear but what we need to know.” Well, he hasn’t so far. Consider the retiring baby boomers. A truth-telling Obama might say: “Spending for retirees — mainly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — is already nearly half the federal budget. Unless we curb these rising costs, we will crush our children with higher taxes. Reflecting longer life expectancies, we should gradually raise the eligibility ages for these programs and trim benefits for wealthier retirees. Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for inaction. Waiting longer will only worsen the problem.”
Instead, Obama pledges not to raise the retirement age and to “protect Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries.” This isn’t “change”; it’s sanctification of the status quo. He would also exempt all retirees making less than $50,000 annually from income tax. By his math, that would provide average tax relief of $1,400 to 7 million retirees — shifting more of the tax burden onto younger workers. …
He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation’s major problems when, so far, he isn’t.
And even on the rhetoric, Obama has recycled it from his opponents. While claims of plagiarism go much too far, Milbank notes that Edwards had complained of extensive Obama borrowing from his speeches. It calls into question the level of intellectual engagement Obama puts into the campaign:
Obama seemed to borrow anew on Tuesday at an outdoor rally in San Antonio — this time from former foe John Edwards. Criticizing pharmaceutical companies’ ads, Obama joked: “You know those ads where people are running around the fields, you know, they’re smiling, you don’t know what the drug is for?”
Compare that with this staple of Edwards’s 2004 stump speech: “I love the ads. Buy their medicine, take it, and the next day you and your spouse will be skipping through the fields.”
The likely nexus: top Obama adviser David Axelrod, who played a similar role for Patrick in 2006 and for Edwards in 2004. That may explain the list of lines Obama lifted from Edwards — whose campaign compiled a list of the offenses before the candidate dropped out of the race.
Here’s Obama’s announcement speech in February 2007: “I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.”
Compare that with Edwards’s 2003 announcement speech: “I haven’t spent most of my life in politics, but I’ve spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change Washington.”
“We need a president not afraid to use the word ‘union,’ ” Edwards told a steelworker audience in July 2007. “We need a president . . . who is not afraid to mention unions,” Obama said a month later. Edwards, accepting the party’s vice presidential nomination in 2004, said, “Hard work should be valued in this country, so we’re going to reward work, not just wealth.” Obama, in turn, has been heard to say, “We shouldn’t just be respecting wealth in this country, we should be respecting work.”
What kind of change is represented by recycled political speeches? How can someone who can’t generate original quips claim to represent real change? His policies reflect standard liberal giveaways, and his record shows next to no risk taken for the compromises that he claims he can champion as president.
Samuelson nails the problem in noting the unknown qualities of Obama. Clinton and John McCain have track records on policy that can act as guideposts for voters. Obama has none, and a non-existent track record of turning rhetoric into action. Instead of building that kind of record, Obama wants voters to hope that he does better as President than he did in three years as a Senator in coming up with something other than the standard, discredited policies of big-government giveaways that he currently proposes.
Jon Henke called this Hope-a-Dope yesterday, after the strategy employed by Mohammed Ali in the ring to tire George Foreman and win the championship. Obama hopes it works as well for him as it did for Ali, and it just might.