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].
Last year, as he looked in the mirror and saw a one-term proposition facing him, he began blaming not himself, but the system. Speaking to a DNC event in August 2011, he recalled what he hadn’t said in 2008, like a lawyer who had just found the greatest loophole ever:
When I said, “change we can believe in,” I didn’t say “change we can believe in tomorrow.” (Laughter.) Not “change we can believe in next week.” We knew this was going to take time, because we’ve got this big, messy, tough democracy.
Actually, as big, messy, tough democracies go, one in which your party completely controls Congress is about as easy as it gets. Obama had such a Congress for two years, and the one-term proposition he currently faces is largely a result of what he did during those two years — until a shellacking stopped him from doing more.
He rammed through ObamaCare on a purely partisan vote, using a hyper-partisan procedure, ignoring the message voters had repeatedly sent to him in opinion polls, town hall meetings, and the Massachusetts election. In March 2010, after he had pushed ObamaCare through the system like a proctologist in a hurry, 55 percent of the electorate wanted to repeal it; last month the percentage was still 55 percent. Since the Supreme Court has ruled ObamaCare constitutional, there is only one way left for the electorate to effectuate its desire for repeal.
He could not get his tax increases passed in his first two years — not even in a lame duck session of the Democratic Congress at the end of 2010, which had 50 shellacked Democrats in it who were not going to be coming back a month later, and who could have voted their “consciences” without fear of further political reprisal.
His massive cap-and-trade scheme failed even to make it to a vote in the Democratic Senate, after barely passing the House. His unserious budgets, with government spending and annual deficits maintained at historic highs, repeatedly got voted down 100-0; he felt no compulsion to submit a realistic one, or to demand that the Democratic-controlled Senate produce one of its own. He ignored the proposals from the commission he had established to reduce the debt and deficits, and he continued to pile on trillions in debt, having described such actions in 2008 as “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic.”
In 2012, he is still arguing to a skeptical electorate that the key to economic success is to transfer trillions more from the private economy to the government. He thinks the private sector is doing fine. He believes we can tax ourselves (or rather the 1%, or maybe the 10%) to prosperity, ignoring mountains of evidence that economies do better with lower tax rates that generate greater economic activity (and therefore ultimately more tax revenue).
And ObamaCare — whose costs don’t truly kick in until 2014 — looks like a fiscal tidal wave approaching the shore. He does not have a plan to save Medicare from bankruptcy, much less the costs of effectively extending Medicaid to the entire country through a mandate he said in 2008 was not a tax — and then in 2011, argued to the Supreme Court that it was.
These days, Obama talks repeatedly about how he told us in 2008 that it would take two terms and maybe even two presidents, but it is simply a new story to replace the very different tale he told us back then. What he did not say then, but which is undoubtedly true now, is that undoing the damage he has done will take a new president, and it may even take the new president two terms.