Game on Obama Draws the Line

Robert Borosage

Game on. President Obama delivered a fierce speech yesterday, calling out the radical nonsense of the Republican budget, and defining the themes of the choice Americans will face in the Fall. The speech was long, detailed, and unrelenting. I recommend taking the time to read it in full.

This is the Obama that progressives have been calling for. No more temporizing. No more backroom “grand bargain” negotiations with extremists intent on cutting taxes on the rich even if that requires gutting the investments vital to our future. Obama finally calls them out. Exposes their dishonesty. Reveals the zaniness of their ideological zealotry.

Obama makes himself the champion of working people, and what he calls the “defining issue of our time:” restoring the sense of economic security while giving everyone a fair shot, rather than catering to the very few, the 1% who captured a staggering 93% of all income growth in 2010.

He scorns the Republican’s “laughable” claim that they are forced to radical cuts by the need to reduce the deficit, given that they call for another $4.6 trillion in new tax cuts, largely for the wealthiest Americans. The Republican plan – passed by the House Republicans and embraced as “marvelous” by Mitt Romney – is, in the president’s words, “really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism. It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who is willing to work for it. A place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top but grows outward from the heart of middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last. Education and training, research and development, our infrastructure, it is a prescription for decline.” (Emphasis added)

No one who cares about America’s future, no patriot, could stand with a budget that would so weaken America. Progressives of all stripes will rally to stand with the president in this fight.

But

Yes, Martha, there is a but. I have no desire to distract from the force of the speech, but it is worth marking how far the debate has moved to the right.

Obama does what every candidate does: before marking the differences, he seeks to establish his claim on the “center.” So at the beginning of the speech that is a defense of public purpose, he shows that he is no big government, tax and spend liberal.

“Keep in mind, I have never been somebody who believes that government can or should try to solve every problem….

As president, I have eliminated dozens of programs that weren’t working and announced over 500 regulatory reforms that will save businesses and taxpayers billions.

And put annual domestic spending on a path to become the smallest share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower held this office.

Since before I was born. I know that the true engine of job creation in this country is the private sector not Washington, which is why I’ve cut taxes for small business owners 17 times over the last three years.”

In establishing his credibility as a candidate of the center, he embraces conservative shibboleths: America is over-regulated, spends too much, and taxes too much.

The reality is exactly the reverse. Our economy was savaged because markets have too little regulation. Our health is endangered because of too little capacity to police companies.

Spending at the levels of Ike is a travesty. We are starving vital investments in our future. Our infrastructure is decrepit, costly to our economy and dangerous to our health. We’re not providing even the basics in public education – from pre-K to affordable college. We denigrate teachers rather than paying them adequately. Our investments in new energy are trivial in comparison to the Chinese intent on capturing what will be the markets of the future. Our training and employment programs don’t come close to providing workers what they need to navigate today’s economic currents. This list could go on.

And tax cuts for “small business” are mostly a waste. Corporations pay a decreasing share of the national tax burden. The wealthy, as the president says and Romney illustrates, pay lower rates than their secretaries.

The president goes on to make many of these same arguments in his speech, defending sensible regulation, vital investments and tax hikes on the top. But the fact that he and his pollsters feel the need to pay tribute to the conservative gospel is a marker of how constrained the current debate is.

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