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The Progressive

The Pluses and Minuses of Obama’s Speech

I liked a lot of what President Obama said in his convention speech.

I liked his defense of the positive role of government.

It was reassuring to hear him pronounce the three letters, “FDR,” again, which I thought had been deleted from the President’s alphabet.

It was great to hear him defend Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security and Head Start.

This was my favorite passage in the whole speech:

“Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can't do everything, it should do almost nothing. If you can't afford health insurance, hope that you don't get sick. If a company releases toxic pollution into the air your children breathe, well, that's just the price of progress. If you can't afford to start a business or go to college, take my opponent's advice and ‘borrow money from your parents.’ "

And it was certainly refreshing to hear the President say, after Romney had mocked Obama’s concern about the rising oceans, that “climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future.”

But I wonder.


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He said if we voted for him again, he’d help address the problem of global warming. Yet he dragged his feet at every international conference on the subject over the last four years and just allowed Shell to drill for oil off the shores of Alaska.

And I wonder how steadfast he is about protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, since he also said, ominously, “I'm still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission,” which called for cuts in those crucial programs. And he repeated his paean to bipartisanship, “No party has a monopoly on wisdom”—though that ship has long since sunk.

On foreign policy, he bragged that “we've reasserted our power across the Pacific,” but this is simply setting up a potential conflict with China that could be very dangerous.

And he also boasted that “from Burma to Libya to South Sudan, we have advanced the rights and dignity of all human beings.” Somehow he didn’t manage to get to Latin America. Perhaps for good reason, since his Administration coddled the coup makers in Honduras and helped strip the people there of their “rights and dignity.”

Like George W. Bush and many presidents before him, he ended by claiming that “Providence is with us.” Is that really necessary? Even if you believe in God, which I don’t, how do you possibly know that God has taken our side?

This incantation feeds the American superiority complex, which is aggravated enough already. And it also runs counter to Obama’s theme of “citizenship,” since the whole idea of being a citizen came about in opposition to rule by royals and clerics.

Obama’s speech provided enough kindling for those who are desperate to reignite their passion for him. But it also contained within itself the seeds of future disappointments.

Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild is senior editor of The Progressive magazine.

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