The politics of pettiness: Obama’s “Godfather speech” reveals just how devoid of fresh ideas the Obama Left is

by Ryan Streeter on December 8, 2011. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

In his Wall Street Journal column today Daniel Henninger calls President Obama’s Osawatomie speech the “Godfather speech.” He notes that Obama spent a good bit of the speech badgering the rich and essentially saying that there are parts of the American public who are “dead to me.” When it was all said and done, Obama has one concrete proposal:

The Kansas speech was built around one concrete policy idea: that the rich and millionaires (officially still defined as families with before-tax income above $250,000) should send him more money so he can “invest” it. This single policy, if we heard correctly, will end high unemployment, raise middle-class incomes, put children through college, make America fair and defeat countries that pollute.

When you read the text of Obama’s speech, it’s hard to argue with that characterization. The White House made a point of linking to Teddy Roosevelt’s Osawatomie speech, on which Obama’s address was modeled. The two speeches are very different. Roosevelt’s analysis of the times he was living in are thoughtful, an attempt to accurately describe the times and respond to them with a fresh outlook.

Obama did what he does best: erect strawmen to tear down. His characterization of today’s problems are so simplistic, you wonder how the speechwriting process in this White House works.

Obama said:

But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you can from whomever you can. (Applause.) He understood the free market only works when there are rules of the road that ensure competition is fair and open and honest.

“License to take whatever you can from whomever you can” – who actually believes that? If you’re going to critique free-market fundamentalism, at least school yourself in it. Obama’s words here are just plain silly talk.

He also said:

There is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us.

He uses this to criticize the trickle-down economics of conservatives. Now, there are certainly Republicans whose view of the world doesn’t get much more expansive than Obama’s characterization, but the reality in Washington is this: the same people advocating for a freer market are also those who have proposed the most sober-minded, forward-looking deficit reduction reforms. And everyone – except Obama Democrats apparently – believes that economic resurgence and deficit reduction go hand-in-hand. A freer market and a less burdensome state are actually two things for which Americans express a lot of sympathy. Obama knows this, and that’s why in the speech he also referenced “trillions” in cuts to entitlements that he supports, but no one has been tricked by his utter absence from the entitlement debate. A President that ignores his own deficit commission isn’t exactly leading on the issue. Everyone, except those living in the Obama bubble, knows this.

And then there’s the overworked critique of “those who got us into this mess.” Robert Reich, who fawned over Obama’s speech at HuffPo, wishes Obama would have been even stronger when he declared that the same people who drove us into recession “want to go back to the same policies that have stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for too many years.” This is the boring rallying cry of a dying left in America – a left that still finds inspiration in notions that even ordinary Americans have come to find too simplistic. Has Obama ever really described how the amazing levels of delegation to regulatory authorities in the Dodd-Frank bill change much of anything? Banks are bigger than ever and as bailout-able as ever, and so far, the bill hasn’t done much to change that. Fannie and Freddie still operate with impunity at the taxpayers’ expense. Middle American voters may not understand the intricacies of Dodd-Frank or how the secondary mortgage market works, but there’s not much evidence that they believe Obama has changed the rules of the game for the better.

Obama’s meme about being the lone defender of the middle class stands on a remarkable paucity of ideas. Which brings us back to Henninger’s point: Obama’s got one idea, cloaked in long speeches like the one delivered in Kansas. He offered nothing new, painted no vision of what America can be other than what everyone already knows (we are the best entrepreneurs, have the best universities, need more opportunity so upward mobility is better, and so on). Embarrassing, really. But get ready for another 11 months of this.