I want to thank President Obama for focusing our national attention on the central question that lies beyond the current debate about budgets, spending and debt. He said that it is "about more than just numbers on a page, more than just cutting and spending. It's about the kind of future we want. It's about the kind of country we believe in." He's right. It's about the difference between entitlement and opportunity, between freedom and dependence. It also marks the end of President Obama's brief commitment to civility in public discourse. The 2012 election season is in full swing.
By choosing to demagogue rather than to discuss the policy prescriptions in Paul Ryan's Republican Budget Committee proposal, he showed himself to be the hard leftist that many of us have always believed him to be, rather than the centrist he played in the 2008 campaign. In that campaign, he displayed an almost Reaganesque appeal to hope and optimism about the country's future, and a general good will towards his opponents, even while offering a dramatically different philosophy of government. In the speech at George Washington University, those niceties were totally absent, replaced by the rhetoric of contempt.
When candidates run for President for the first time, they're expected to be competitive, and forgiven if they approach being combative. But when Presidents run for reelection, they're expected to be Presidential. There was nothing Presidential about Mr. Obama's language in his Wednesday speech. It was virtually indistinguishable from the super-partisanship of one of the Democratic Party Committees. Take, for example, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In a DSSC email to supporters the day after the speech, the DSSC said "Based on their proposal, the House Republicans have warped values. The Ryan Budget sums it up: destroy Medicare and leave seniors and people with disabilities to fend for themselves."
That's the kind of almost hysterical talk we have come to expect in a political party committee's fundraising appeals — but not from a President. Yet listen to the language of President Obama:
"These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can't afford the America we believe in… It's a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can't afford to fix them… It's a vision that says America can't afford to keep the promise we've made to care for our seniors. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn't worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck — you're on your own.
This is a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. And who are those 50 million Americans? Many are someone's grandparents who wouldn't be able afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down's syndrome. Some are kids with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we'd be telling to fend for themselves."
That's not how any President should speak. Those are the words of a divider, not a uniter. They certainly don't fairly represent the Ryan budget plan. They are the words of one would rather fight than win — and words like those certainly won't help to forge any kind of consensus. Yet some consensus must be reached, with a Republican House and a Democratic Senate. We are in an increasingly serious crisis, but we have a President who foregoes the language of leadership for the cheap shots of the campaign trail — the lowest form of politics.
We are indeed looking at two different visions for the future of America. I hope that America wakes up to how starkly different the two visions are. The American people are fundamentally freedom-loving, hard-working and optimistic, and I hope that they will be drawn toward the option that offers them freedom, opportunity and growth. Then 2012 will truly be an historic election about the future of America. We must elect a new President and a Congress who will return us to the values that have made this the greatest nation on earth.