Ed Driscoll

Barack to the Future!

Responding to Obama’s phone-it-in (with a rotary dial) economic speech on Thursday, Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon asks:

I can’t be the only person in America who, at about minute 35 in President Obama’s almost hour-long “framing” speech in Cleveland Thursday, wanted to tell the president, as the Dude famously screams at Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, “You’re living in the past!

No, you’re not — it was a topic I explored in video form back at the start of 2010. And later yesterday, economic journalist James Pethokoukis picked up the theme at Ricochet, noting that  “It’s Obama, Not Romney, Who’s Stuck in the 1950s:”

The 1950s and 1960s — taxes were high, unions were strong, incomes more equal. And the U.S. economy grew by 3.7% a year. So, Obama seems to suggest, let’s just dial up the economic Way Back Machine — raise taxes on the rich, reregulate industry, boost union power – and we can go back to the future.

But there’s no going back, Mr. President. The post-World War II decades were affected by a host of unique factors, not the least of which was that they came right after a devastating global war that left America’s competitors in ruins. A National Bureau of Economic Research study described the situation this way: “At the end of World War II, the United States was the dominant industrial producer in the world. … This was obviously a transitory situation.”

And as former Bain Capital executive Edward Conard notes in his new book, Unintended Consequences, the size of the U.S. labor force was constrained during those decades by both the 1930s baby bust and casualties from the war. So a surge in jobs and a restricted supply of labor produced fat wage growth. Hoping for a return to that era is futile, Conard concludes:

The United States was prosperous for a unique set of reasons that are impossible to duplicate today, including a decade-long depression, the destruction of the rest of the world’s infrastructure, a failure of potential foreign competitors to educate their people, and a highly restricted supply of labor. For the sake of mankind, let’s hope those conditions aren’t repeated. It seems to me anyone who makes comparisons between todays’ economy and that of the 1950s and 1960s without fully disclosing their differences is deceiving their readers.

Demographics, technology and globalization — has Obama noticed how any of these have changed over the past half century? It was hard to tell from that Ohio speech.

On the other hand, as Continetti writes, speechmaking is really all Obama’s done his entire life before becoming president; no wonder he’s doubling down on it when forced to justify his administration’s horrific policies and blinkered economic worldview:

The very idea that Obama has the ability to shape his political fortunes through rhetoric is a backwards-looking myth. It is part of the pop narrative of Obama’s 2008 candidacy, in which the young freshman senator was able to rescue his moribund campaign from the evil Clinton machine by giving a single speech at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner in November 2007. More likely it was Obama’s antiwar stance in an antiwar party that gave him the edge in the Iowa caucuses the following January, but that has not stopped the president or his supporters from having an almost theological attachment to his oratorical prowess.

The evidence in this case, however, is decidedly on the side of the nonbelievers. The Washington Post counts over 500 speeches or appearances where the president has mentioned health care, but his overhaul remains remarkably unpopular. The president’s campaign appearances on behalf of Creigh Deeds in Virginia, Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey, Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, and Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia were unsuccessful, which may have been why he didn’t even bother to campaign in Wisconsin for Tom Barrett (who lost anyway). A televised address last July did not win Obama his lusted-after tax increase on the rich, nor did remarks to a joint session of Congress win passage of his American Jobs Act.  Eleven “major” speeches on the economy have not generated a full recovery or prevented economic indicators from backsliding. Indeed, one of President Obama’s few accomplishments has been to prove, definitively, the worthlessness of the bully pulpit.

Obama puts his verbal talents to use by fashioning straw men who flatter his ideological prejudices. There are, for example, only two types of Republicans in the president’s speeches: dead or defeated ones who happened to be reasonable people who acted in good faith, and living and successful ones who “believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own,” and who want to end “the guarantee of basic security we’ve always provided the elderly, and the sick, and those who are actively looking for work.”

As Peter Wehner writes at Commentary, “The Obama campaign is out of ideas. On the economy, Obama has used virtually everything in his progressive toolkit. Nothing has worked. And so the president, unable to defend his record in the first term, is left with no compelling vision to offer in a second term.” But that won’t stop Mr. Obama from talking and talking and talking and