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Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Barack Obama's Convention Speech

Convention in another sense is what we got, but the packaging was excellent.

Senator Obama's Convention Speech

I finally gave up on having time to watch Barack Obama's convention speech from last Thursday and just read it -- specifically, the prepared text. That's a lot faster. Presumably, he didn't depart from his text in any crucial ways when he spoke.

A lot of the speech is the usual liberal sentiment, mixed with familiar leftist critique of the current administration and the Republican candidate. In general it is neither wholly accurate nor completely logical, but this is politics. The liberalism is (quite necessarily) dressed up with the usual sops to ordinary people about personal responsibility, the dignity of work, government not solving all our problems, and so forth. We'll hear some of the same in John McCain's speech this week, just from the other side. In any case, you can read the same Obama speech I read if you want the details. (You can watch it there, too.)

The speech is more gracefully written (and presumably more eloquently spoken) than usual, but that's hardly a surprise: It's Barack Obama. It's easy to hear him in my mind's ear, so to speak, scoring with these lines in a way that Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, or Hillary Clinton never could:

For over two decades, [John McCain has] subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

For full effect, you need an excellent speech writer and an excellent speaker; here we have both. Obama is the latter; someone else -- probably a team of someone elses -- is the former.

The Promises

Here are Obama's specific promises. They're not all very specific, but let's face it, he's not a policy wonk. Some of my comments follow in italics and (parenthesis).

  • "Stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas. . . . start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America." (Believe this when it happens.)
  • "Eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow." (Why do small companies deserve this more than large ones? A man or woman is just as much employed when the employer is a large corporation as when the employer is a small business.)
  • "Cut taxes for 95% of all working families." (I'm fairly certain that the number of "working families" who pay no federal income tax far exceeds five percent, so this is impossible. You can't cut someone's taxes who already doesn't pay anything.)
  • "In ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East." (Impossible in ten years no matter how you try it, short of absolute economic catastrophe; doubly so if we refuse to exploit our own oil reserves, as Obama does.)
  • "Invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced." ($150 billion over ten years is trivial, not nearly enough to achieve what he promises, even if it is possible.)
  • "I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education." (But he will avoid real solutions, such as tuition tax credits, or real accountability, because the NEA and the rest of the education establishment will be his puppet masters, as usual.)
  • "Affordable, accessible health care for every single American." (When did putting the government in charge ever make anything affordable -- or make it efficient, or encourage real progress, etc.?)
  • "Paid sick days and better family leave." (This will undo any positive effects on small business of those capital gains tax cuts he promised earlier.)
  • "Change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses." (Not a bad idea, perhaps, but even Barack Obama can't leap this many lobbyists in a single bound.)

Paying for It

Here's how Obama will pay for all his liberal largess:

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime - by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less - because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

These things need to be done, but they will never produce the necessary revenues. Besides that, never in a million years -- or at least the next eight years -- will a Democrat-controlled Congress let even a Democrat president really do this. Even if Obama really wants it, of which I am skeptical, . . . they don't want it.

Foreign Policy

Quoth Obama:

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

Maybe if I had Obama's faith in the implacable power of American diplomacy I wouldn't want to scoff at this. Maybe if I hadn't witnessed studied the last few decades of history, I would have his faith in diplomacy.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I would rather listen to Barack Obama give a speech than John McCain, just for the art of it. And this is not a bad speech. But the ideas in it are mostly conventional liberalism, dressed up for the early twenty-first century. Maybe, just maybe, 50.1 percent of the voters are too ignorant or inattentive to realize that we already know most of them won't work.

Here's one more example of some lines that really do sound good:

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

Of course we generally agree on these ends. But even when conservatives and liberals agree on such ends, there are fundamental differences in their means for achieving these ends. We do not agree on what will work and what won't, on what has worked or hasn't, or on what we should or should not do for moral or economic or other reasons.

And did you notice a problem in the penultimate sentence of that paragraph? If a presidential candidate can't think of anyone who benefits when a business employs an illegal alien at a lower wage instead of a legal worker at a higher wage, he doesn't know enough about immigration or economics to have a major policy role in either area. Here are the first three who come to my mind: The illegal alien benefits because he has a job. The employer benefits because of the lower cost of labor. The consumer benefits because lower costs can be passed on as lower prices.

That said, there's a much larger problem with both this paragraph and the entire speech. If Barack Obama were the leader he claims and aspires to be, wouldn't he have shown some discernible leadership in the US Senate on at least some of the issues he listed in this speech?

Where's the beef?

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