Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Obama: Reagan "could not get through a Republican primary today"

Well, I'm late to the party today, and there's not much I can say that hasn't already been said about Obama's crystal clear contrast between his budget priorities and the Ryan Republicans' today in his speech at the Associated Press lunch. See Greg Sargent on core messages (especially on defending government activism as essential to sustainable growth), Ezra Klein on making the Ryan cuts concrete, Jamelle Bouie on highlighting the current GOP's extremism.

I will content myself with the encore: a remarkable little pocket brief that Obama delivered in response to the first question. The subject was Republican extremism, and the false equivalence that locates the reasonable center at the midpoint between two parties. Claiming the center, Obama reeled off a syllogism:  a) deficit reduction entails a common sense mix of revenue hikes and spending cuts; b) all the Republican presidential candidates ruled out any revenue hikes; c) Ronald Reagan accepted the budgeting realities that the current GOP denies; d) Democrats were willing to accept tough entitlements cuts, but Republicans wouldn't budge on revenue; therefore e) the press indulges in false equivalence when it portrays both sides as equally unable to compromise.  Here's the disquisition:
MR. SINGLETON: ...Republicans have been sharply critical of your budget ideas as well.  What can you say to the Americans who just want both sides to stop fighting and get some work done on their behalf?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I completely understand the American people’s frustrations, because the truth is that these are eminently solvable problems.  I know that Christine Lagarde is here from the IMF, and she’s looking at the books of a lot of other countries around the world.  The kinds of challenges they face fiscally are so much more severe than anything that we confront -- if we make some sensible decisions.

So the American people’s impulses are absolutely right.  These are solvable problems if people of good faith came together and were willing to compromise.  The challenge we have right now is that we have on one side, a party that will brook no compromise.  And this is not just my assertion.  We had presidential candidates who stood on a stage and were asked, “Would you accept a budget package, a deficit reduction plan, that involved $10 of cuts for every dollar in revenue increases?” Ten-to-one ratio of spending cuts to revenue.  Not one of them raised their hand.

Think about that.  Ronald Reagan, who, as I recall, is not accused of being a tax-and-spend socialist, understood repeatedly that when the deficit started to get out of control, that for him to make a deal he would have to propose both spending cuts and tax increases.  Did it multiple times.  He could not get through a Republican primary today.

So let's look at Bowles-Simpson.  Essentially, my differences with Bowles-Simpson were I actually proposed less revenue and slightly lower defense spending cuts.  The Republicans want to increase defense spending and take in no revenue, which makes it impossible to balance the deficit under the terms that Bowles-Simpson laid out -- unless you essentially eliminate discretionary spending.  You don't just cut discretionary spending.  Everything we think of as being pretty important -- from education to basic science and research to transportation spending to national parks to environmental protection -- we'd essentially have to eliminate.

I guess another way of thinking about this is -- and this bears on your reporting.  I think that there is oftentimes the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, then they're equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and an equivalence is presented -- which reinforces I think people's cynicism about Washington generally.  This is not one of those situations where there's an equivalence.  I've got some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress who were prepared to make significant changes to entitlements that go against their political interests, and who said they were willing to do it.  And we couldn't get a Republican to stand up and say, we'll raise some revenue, or even to suggest that we won't give more tax cuts to people who don't need them.

And so I think it's important to put the current debate in some historical context.
It's often said that while Obama can deliver logical arguments in coherent paragraphs, he's not much for effective repetition or trenchant sound bytes. I think that's true. He does repeat himself endlessly -- what politician doesn't? -- but he doesn't distill to sharp image or visceral catch-phrase very often.  But he may have one here. Reagan could not get through a Republican primary today -- captured in that image of a stageful of GOP presidential candidates raising their hands to affirm that they would not accept a 10-to-1 spending-cuts-to-tax-hike deficit deal.  Let's hear that one a few hundred times in the coming months.

1 comment:

  1. It's also been said that President Obama can't express a thought without a teleprompter, yet I continually read unscripted discourses that are elegantly phrased and make sense. What gives?