In 2006, before joining fellow Democrats in a vote against raising the debt ceiling, then-Senator Barack Obama wrote: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.”
A few months ago, as the country approached the debt limit, President Obama said, “We will raise the debt limit. We always have. We will do it again,” lest we “plunge the world economy back into a recession.”
In his 2009 Inaugural Address, the president told the American people, “Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day.”
Over the next year and a half, he heaped more debt on the public than every president from George Washington to Ronald Reagan combined.
In February of 2011, President Obama issued a budget for fiscal year 2012 calling for a doubling of the debt over five years and a tripling of the debt over ten years.
Two months after that, the president offered a vague “framework” for debt reduction which seemed to ditch the budget he had just offered. “Any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget,” he said, in the very same speech in which he refused to consider fundamental reform of the entitlement programs that cause most of the problem.
Over the past weeks of debt ceiling negotiations, the president has called for “balance,” while refusing to allow any cuts in any of his most expensive programs. He has repeatedly said this was no time for political gamesmanship, while using one press conference after another to excoriate Republicans. He has repeatedly said he will consider spending cuts, while not making a single specific cost-cutting proposal.
The president, in short, has a problem with his mouth: words keep coming out of it that have nothing to do with the truth. He doesn’t even speak plainly. In matters that might be controversial or unpopular, he almost never calls anything by its proper name. He talks about “cutting spending in the tax code” when he means raising taxes; about “making investments” when he means more government spending. And the parts of what he says that can be clearly understood almost never describe his true intentions or his ultimate actions.
When House Speaker John Boehner walked out of the negotiations last week, he said the president had “moved the goalposts,” by insisting on raising taxes more than they had originally agreed. The president denied this–but can anyone doubt that it was Boehner who was telling the truth? It’s not that Boehner—or any politician—is going to win a prize for perfect honesty, but President Obama is at another level of word-to-action disconnection altogether. He seems to feel it completely within his right to say anything—absolutely anything at all—and then go on with his plans with no regard whatsoever for what he said.
During Hillary Clinton’s losing nomination fight against Obama, the Clinton camp famously charged that while Obama’s speeches were impressive, his record was virtually non-existent. “When all is said and done, words aren’t action. They are just words,” the Clintonistas said.
Barack Obama responded with a rousing speech in which he cited some of the great, inspiring phrases of American history: “All men are created equal,” “I have a dream,” and so on. After each phrase he then asked, “Just words?” That speech, plagiarized shamelessly from Masschusetts Governor Deval Patrick, was even more shameless in what it left out: the men who spoke and wrote all those inspiring phrases of the past actually lived out their meanings at the risk of their careers, their honor and sometimes their lives.
Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to care what his words mean, only how they sound, only what they get him. The answer, then, is yes, when this president speaks, it really is just words.
UPDATE: Obama Debt Talk – First Thoughts