With political convention season quickly approaching, now would be a good time to take a look back at Barack Obama’s much-vaunted, Styrofoam pillar, Democratic Nomination Acceptance Speech at Invesco Field in 2008 and do a little comparison of fantasy versus reality. At the time of the big speech, he was accused, and rightly so, of lifting lines (more kindly, drawing inspiration) for his speech from the fictional portrayal of the nation’s Chief Executive in the movie The American President. Obama, in fact, told the movie’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that he intended to do just that.
One such instance comes from the climatic scene of the movie when President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) makes an unannounced visit to the White House Press Room and calls out his Republican rival for office. “We have serious problems to solve and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfus) is not the least bit interested in solving it. He’s interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who is to blame for it. That ladies and gentlemen is how you win elections…”
Obama’s parallel line in his Invesco Field Speech was, “The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook….They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and abandonment of traditional values. And that is to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things. And you know what – it’s worked before.”
And you know what, in contradiction to his exalted rhetoric of four years ago, Barack Obama’s trying to make it work again. His campaign is focused on negatively defining Mitt Romney, which is to be expected (following Obama’s own reasoning) since the President has no fresh ideas. Witness the ridiculous and roundly discredited accusation that Romney may have committed a felony by continuing to be listed as Bain Capital’s CEO in SEC filings, when he in fact left his position leading the company to go rescue the Salt Lake City Olympics from bankruptcy and failure.
Thanks to his leadership, the Games were an amazing success and brought confidence and a sense of national pride to the United States only months after the horrific events of 9-11. Or take Obama’s demand to see a dozen years of Mitt Romney’s tax returns when he’s agreed to make his last two years available (as previous candidates have). Really, is that the best you have Team Obama? That’s the tactic though. Try to spread doubt. Make the election about small things.
Barack Obama realizes of course that he can’t run on his record, particularly the biggest things right now of the nation’s faltering economy and lack of jobs. It’s not “Morning in America Again” as Ronald Reagan was able to claim in 1984. We’ve seen the poverty rate reach a record high not seen since the 1960s; we’re at a 27-year low in terms of number participating in the workforce, and one in six Americans is on food stamps.
While this is a reality, getting a dose of the real, not rhetorical Barack Obama is rare. Every now and then there is an aperture, and these true intentions revealed moments tend to be problematic for him. To borrow another line from The American President, which Obama also used in his speech, “It’s not that he doesn’t get it: he can’t sell it.” At least he can’t sell the supposed right and duty of the government to spread the wealth around.
Further, people cannot buy into the notion that raising taxes in a recession on job creators will get the economy moving again: hence his repeated attempts at doing so on those who already pay well above their “fair share” have failed. And contrary to the President’s recent remarks, Americans by a large margin (72%) do believe that small business owners did in fact build their companies and are responsible for their success. Finally, more Americans now blame the current President for the nation’s economic challenges than the former (34% to 18%.)
President Obama, in yet another instance of borrowing from Andrew Shepherd, echoed this line from the climatic scene in the film in his Invesco Field Speech, “If you want to talk about character and American values fine. Just tell me where and when and I’ll show up. This is a time for serious people Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.” Four years later, Mitt Romney could take a cue from Obama and offer this line in return: “If you want to have a debate about who has the best plan to save this country from financial ruin and restore the American dream, that’s a debate I’m ready to have. This is a time for serious people Barack, and your fifteen minutes are up.”