Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Obama’s stump speech is too easy on Romney

The lamest hypocrisy at Romney’s convention was the sad-eyed talk about America’s lost illusions about Barack Obama. Do you remember those warm dreams Republicans shared with innocent swing voters on that starry night?  

For Democratic partisans, it was exhilarating to win again, whatever was in store. Sober Republicans also slept well knowing they’d wake up free of responsibility for fixing a metastasizing national calamity.

However, we should well remember that there was nothing gleeful or boundlessly optimistic about Obama that night. For many of us, he sounded as wary in victory as his inspiration, Abraham Lincoln, was in 1860.

What made that night inspiring and what Republicans still can’t honor was what had happened that day at the polls. That victory can’t be undone by what’s happened since, or by the Tea Party, the Super-Pacs, and a vengeful Republican restoration this November.

These days, Obama’s stump speech contains its own miscalculation about how to use the past to win the future.

Over and over, he completes his rebuttal of the Republican economic alternative with a sigh: “The thing is, we tried that before and it didn’t work.” Last weekend, in Ohio, he reinforced his complaint by describing the Republican platform as “tired, old ideas” and their convention as best-watched “in black and white.”

This in itself is tiring and, more important, counterproductive. Obama isn’t going to scare any but a handful of old faithful Keynesians by describing Romney’s prescriptions as passé. Buyer remorse over George Bush has been crowded out by fear about what could happen next.

Obama won’t scare necessary voters by describing the Republican alternative as an old shoe. And that would be a huge missed opportunity. Scaring Americans elected waves of Republican radicals in 2010. Scaring Americans could re-elect a moderate president this fall.

Gentle souls: hope is packaging; fear is what caught up with America in 2008 and 2010, and fear is what is driving American politics today.

Move on, Obama. "Forward" is not your option; it’s inescapable. Your opponent isn’t gambling with the past, but with the future. Your opponent isn’t a naïf from business, with a weak memory. He’s making political commitments that would make both Bushes blush. His reckless public record as a presidential candidate deserves greater personal attention.

Romney did not lift a finger to strengthen the hand of Republican moderates during the debt crisis last year. Romney has bolstered the extreme, essentially obstructionist “no tax” pledge of Grover Norquist. In every speech, he makes it more difficult politically for the federal government to operate a more affordable national defense and reform entitlements. He seems to buy the argument that hastening a managed national bankruptcy will make things better.

When Romney had a chance to strengthen his own moderate tendencies and his party’s dying moderate wing, he picked as his running mate a tear-it-down-and-see-what-happens extremist.

If Romney has the nerve in the upcoming debates to suggest that Obama should’ve listened more respectfully to Bill Clinton and old-school Democrats, Obama should point out that Romney could have put any number of genuine moderate pragmatists on his ticket, including Gov. Jeb Bush.

Obama, of course, needn’t get glassy-eyed about the Bush years.

George Bush, along with dozens of congressional Democrats, was too optimistic about tax cuts, cost-effective foreign wars, and unstoppable economic growth. Mitt Romney, however, doesn’t have any of Bush’s excuses.  

George Bush insisted that he was a compassionate conservative and promised—and delivered—greater support for education. Romney and his platform turn compassion into a boast, an obligation that can be assigned, no strings attached, to others to express.

People who refuse to learn from experience aren’t conservatives or reactionaries; they’re adventures. Obama’s moderation shines by comparison.

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