Earlier this year, President Obama started adding a stock line to the stump speech he gives at his endless fundraisers, recalling what he supposedly said in 2008. As he phrased it at a campaign event in Florida last month:
Now, ever since I first ran for this office, I’ve said it’s going to take more than one year or one term or maybe even one president to restore the dream that built this country.
A week later, he mangled his oft-repeated statement, reversing the subject and predicate, saying that ever since he had run for president he had said it would take that long to “restore the dream this country built.” Perhaps he was confusing his 2008 statement with his 2012 campaign theme. (That dream you have? You didn’t build that).
But the more significant question is: when in 2008 did he say anything like it would take two terms and maybe two presidents to do what he promised?
On the night he effectively secured the Democratic presidential nomination, he told the crowd it was a “defining moment for our nation,” a “moment that will define a generation,” a “moment when … the rise of the oceans began to slow.” Five days before the election, he said we were “five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” His nomination would make the waters recede; his election would transform America. It was all about the fierce urgency of now — not two terms or maybe two presidents.
In his inaugural address, Obama said that “everywhere we look, there is work to be done” and that what was required was “action, bold and swift.” He assured the nation that:
[W]e will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.
People listening to Obama on the first day of his presidency might have thought to themselves, “Boy, this has gotta take two terms, and maybe even two presidents; I mean — not just creating new jobs, but laying a new foundation for growth; not just building roads and bridges, but grids and lines; restoring science to its rightful place; raising health care’s quality while lowering its cost; harnessing the sun and wind; transforming schools, colleges and universities — that’s gonna take a while.”
But if Obama’s listeners thought his ambitions might be a tad grandiose, and that the system might not tolerate his big plans all at once, Obama disabused them of that notion in the next paragraph of his address:
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. … What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.
No reference to two terms, and maybe two presidents — as he had supposedly been saying ever since he first ran for president. Things were not going to be done one at a time, and certainly not over an extended period of time. They would be done right now, because with his election contrary arguments no longer applied. And his party completely controlled Congress, so the legislative branch was no impediment.
Obama was confident it wouldn’t even take three years. In a February 2, 2009 interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Obama was asked if he would adopt a different strategy if all the spending didn’t work, and he responded as follows.
THE PRESIDENT: … Look, I’m at the start of my administration. One nice thing about the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable. You know, I’ve got four years –
Q: You’ll know quickly how people feel about what’s happened.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right. And, you know, a year from now, I think people are going to see that we’re starting to make some progress, but there’s still going to be some pain out there. If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition. And I welcome that responsibility … [Emphasis added].