The Webner House was a house divided last night after President Clinton’s speech to the Democratic National Convention. It’s been a while since we’ve seen President Clinton giving a speech on the national stage, but he hasn’t changed much. He still has that crinkly voice, the habit of starting every second sentence with “Now” or “Look” or “This is important,” and the finger-wagging and finger-pointing. He still exudes a kind of roguish folksiness.
Kish thought President Clinton knocked it out of the park with his vigorous defense of President Obama’s performance and critique of the Republicans. I thought the speech was too long and too unfocused, flitting from topic to topic on hummingbird’s wings without establishing any kind of theme, and not very convincing besides.
Consider President Clinton’s point on gas costs. He said we should be grateful that the Obama Administration has issued regulations that will require cars to be twice as fuel-efficient in the future, saying that means we’ll be paying half as much for gas because we’ll be driving cars that need only half as much gas. The problem with that argument is that the federal government has been issuing fuel-efficiency regulations for years, yet our costs increase because the rising price of gasoline outstrips any fuel-efficiency savings. Is any American paying less for gas these days than they did, say, in 1994? And, of course, President Clinton only focused on the cost of gas, and not the cost of the car. How much will it cost to buy a car that meets the new standards? How many people will be able to afford them, and how many of the cars — like the Chevy Volt — will need to be sold with a government subsidy to even approach the range of affordability?
I also was struck by President Clinton’s point that the big difference between his tenure and now could be summarized in one word: arithmetic. He argued that Republican proposals don’t add up. The use of “arithmetic” is interesting because a popular t-shirt in Republican circles these days is a play on the famous 2008 Obama “hope” poster; it features a silk screen of Paul Ryan with the word “Math.” Republicans argue that it is President Obama’s budget proposals that violate basic principles of mathematics and are based on phony “savings” and overly optimistic assumptions about economic growth. Is President Obama well-suited to attack Republican arithmetic when he has presided over a series of years that have produced trillion-dollar deficits, and his own budgets forecast enormous deficits for the foreseeable future?
Finally, President Clinton argued that no President, including Clinton himself, could have fixed the problems President Obama inherited in only four years. The fundamental premise in that argument, of course, is that President Obama hasn’t repaired the damage in four years. Even if you accept that conditions when President Obama took office were historically unprecedented, the problem is that President Obama, Vice President Biden, and other members of the Administration confidently predicted that the problems would be fixed and that the economy would be roaring ahead at this point. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Some Americans may pause to wonder why we should reelect someone who hasn’t delivered on his assurances and now is saying that the job was tougher than he led us to believe.