Many people are having a good laugh watching Sarah Palin’s unintentionally hilarious speech to a conservative gathering in Iowa over the weekend. But Palin is never going to get anywhere near the White House.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco Friday, someone else gave a painfully incoherent speech. And since the speaker really could end up in the White House, it’s actually worth your attention.
Jeb Bush’s address to the National Automobile Dealers Association attracted much positive press. He was willing to challenge conservative orthodoxy on immigration and education. He sounded like an adult, eschewing sophomoric right-wing zingers. He maturely identified problems facing average Americans and offered ideas to solve them.
Sounds refreshing. There’s just one problem. When you pay attention to what he is saying, the speech doesn’t make any sense.
Take this passage:
Far from spreading opportunity, our government now gets in the way, each and every day. Another law, another tax, another fee, or another regulation – it all stands in the way of a new business, a new invention, a new job and most importantly, rising income for American families. The great stories that were told here today of successful dealerships – it’s harder today to do exactly what you all have done to achieve earned success.
In other words, government is making things so hard for business … that auto dealers are doing really well.
In fact NADA just announced that, “Light-vehicle sales for 2014 amounted to 16.4 million units up 5.8 percent from 2013 making 2014 the year with the highest sales since 2006.” Also, truck sales are up 17.5 percent from last year. And the NADA annual report from May summing up 2013 said “the annual financial profile of America’s franchised new-car dealerships—shows a robust and highly competitive industry that is helping boost the U.S. economy. Last year, for example, dealerships employed more than 1 million people in their communities.”
Now here’s Jeb talking about economic growth and taxation:
Our nation’s economy used to grow at 3.5 to 4 percent, that was the norm throughout all but the last 15 years … we had a stable and growing middle class … now, in spite of the last few months which have been good economic news, the new normal if you talk to the smart people that decide these things, the new normal is 1.5 to 2 percent growth. And the challenge with that is, if we’re to grow at that rate, kind of the European economic model, we’re not going to be able to build the kind of capacity for people to pursue their dreams as they see fit … No amount of exotic forms of taxation proposed by our president or the progressives in this country comes close to the kind of revenue that government would get if we were to grow at 3.5 or 4 percent a year.
Jeb tries to shrug off the “last few months” as some sort of meaningless fluke. But we’ve had back-to-back quarters of growth faster than what Jeb desires: 4.6 and 5 percent.
Furthermore, despite this being his first 2016 stump speech, Jeb seems to have not updated his numbers since the recent boomlet. “The smart people” at the Federal Reserve and the National Association of Business Economics foresee a solid year for growth in 2015 at around 3 percent.
And contrary to Jeb’s attack on progressives, all this growth is happening after President Obama installed the most progressive tax code in 35 years.
When talking about the history of growth, Jeb is forced to deride “the last 15 years” of subpar performance, encompassing his brother’s tenure without calling him out by name. But his brother’s record matters in this history. George W. Bush famously cut taxes, only to preside over the biggest economic recession since the Great Depression. Before that, President Clinton simultaneously experienced strong economic growth while raising taxes on the wealthy.
So why is Jeb using “fuzzy math” to pit progressive taxation against economic growth?
Jeb’s ideological blinders get stronger as he turns to how he would improve economic growth. His first prescription: “We need to reform our health care system … Obamacare is clearly a job killer.”
Huh? Let’s check the record: The Obama economy has created more than 10 million private sector jobs since of the recession in mid-2009 (Obamacare was signed into law March 2010). Compare that to the Bush economy, which lost 462,000 private sector jobs.
We proved that we can simultaneously regulate health care and create jobs. But we can’t fail to regulate Wall Street and still create jobs.
The final bizarre part of Jeb’s address was his recommendations for energy policy.
Talking as if we are still living in George W. Bush’s America, Jeb complains that we are too dependent on foreign oil: “$300 billion left our country to countries that either are unstable and could hate us if there was regime change, or already do hate us.” But once again contradicting himself, he acknowledges how energy independent we’ve become in recent years, following his critique by observing “the United States is fast becoming the largest producer of oil and gas in the world.”
In fact, on Obama’s watch we’ve slashed the amount of oil we import from those awful regimes, because of the oil and gas boom Jeb lauds and Obama’s environmental regulations Jeb ignores.
Jeb proceeds to praise the fracking-fueled rise in natural gas production, and when describing his energy policy recommendations, he insinuates federal regulators are acting in a hostile way to the industry: “Washington shouldn’t try to regulate hydraulic fracking out of business. It should be done reasonably and thoughtfully to protect the natural environment, but it shouldn’t be done with the intent of paralyzing it.”
Who in Washington is Jeb talking about trying to kill fracking? Not President Obama. Here’s what Obama said about fracking in the 2014 State of the Union address: “America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades. One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
In turn, the EPA has done nothing to paralyze fracking – as Jeb himself mentioned, we’re number one!
Instead, the EPA is working on methane emission regulations so natural gas lives up to the promise of being a net benefit for the climate. This regulatory strategy has been chosen precisely to negate the push to ban fracking. Jeb’s argument is textbook straw man, undercut by his own admission of the oil and gas boom happening under Obama.
Jeb wants to be seen as the grown-up in the 2016 field, the one person big enough to resist pandering to fringe right-wing factions, the one person you can trust to govern in a serious manner. But his incoherent policy speech is not serious, however soberly it was delivered. He is honest enough to mention the good things that have happened in the last six years, but not brave enough to acknowledge how they happened and adjust his ideological assumptions in response. As a result, his stump speech is incoherent mush.
He may be relatively sane compared to Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee or Chris Christie. He may even be more competent than his brother. But we should have a high bar for who becomes president. This contradictory mess of a speech falls well short.