Almost exactly a year ago, President Obama delivered a high-profile speech on the nation's fiscal future, and used the opportunity to condemn the House Republican budget plan in no uncertain terms. Republicans responded with apoplexy -- Obama hurt their feelings by rejecting their governing philosophy. They can accuse him of being a radical socialist, but if the president responds with a broadside against a plan that eliminates Medicare, he's a big meanie.
If last year's response chastened Obama, it certainly wasn't evident this afternoon. The president spoke for an hour at an Associated Press luncheon, and whatever your perspective, Obama's remarks are well worth watching.
If you can't watch clips online, the White House has posted a full transcript, but let's take a moment (or two) to highlight what made this speech important.
This was, as advertised, an aggressive, unapologetic condemnation of the Paul Ryan/Mitt Romney budget agenda, and the ideology that led to its creation. Indeed, Obama practically mocked Republicans for having tested their trickle-down philosophy, failing spectacularly, and then becoming even more right wing as a consequence.
"[Y]ou would think that after the results of this experiment in trickle-down economics, after the results were made painfully clear, that the proponents of this theory might show some humility, might moderate their views a bit. You'd think they'd say, you know what, maybe some rules and regulations are necessary to protect the economy and prevent people from being taken advantage of by insurance companies or credit card companies or mortgage lenders. Maybe, just maybe, at a time of growing debt and widening inequality, we should hold off on giving the wealthiest Americans another round of big tax cuts. Maybe when we know that most of today's middle-class jobs require more than a high school degree, we shouldn't gut education, or lay off thousands of teachers, or raise interest rates on college loans, or take away people's financial aid.
"But that's exactly the opposite of what they've done. Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down, and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal."
The GOP, in other words, tried to implement their vision during the Bush/Cheney era -- massive tax breaks for the wealthy, scaled-back regulations, giving Wall Street free rein -- but instead of learning from their failures, Republicans are intent on repeating them.
Of particular interest, though, was Obama's take, not only on the GOP's right-wing budget plan, but also on the GOP's right-wing trajectory in general.
It dovetails nicely with what we discussed yesterday -- the Republican Party in 2012 bears no resemblance to the Republican Party of years past. From today's speech:
"For generations, nearly all of these investments -- from transportation to education to retirement programs -- have been supported by people in both parties. As much as we might associate the G.I. Bill with Franklin Roosevelt, or Medicare with Lyndon Johnson, it was a Republican, Lincoln, who launched the Transcontinental Railroad, the National Academy of Sciences, land grant colleges. It was Eisenhower who launched the Interstate Highway System and new investment in scientific research. It was Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency, Ronald Reagan who worked with Democrats to save Social Security. It was George W. Bush who added prescription drug coverage to Medicare.
"What leaders in both parties have traditionally understood is that these investments aren't part of some scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another. They are expressions of the fact that we are one nation. These investments benefit us all. They contribute to genuine, durable economic growth."
Later, in response to a question from a reporter, Obama added:
"Ronald Reagan, who, as I recall, is not accused of being a tax-and-spend socialist, understood repeatedly that when the deficit started to get out of control, that for him to make a deal he would have to propose both spending cuts and tax increases. Did it multiple times. He could not get through a Republican primary today. [...]
Cap and trade was originally proposed by conservatives and Republicans as a market-based solution to solving environmental problems. The first President to talk about cap and trade was George H.W. Bush. Now you've got the other party essentially saying we shouldn't even be thinking about environmental protection; let's gut the EPA.
"Health care, which is in the news right now -- there's a reason why there's a little bit of confusion in the Republican primary about health care and the individual mandate since it originated as a conservative idea to preserve the private marketplace in health care while still assuring that everybody got covered, in contrast to a single-payer plan. Now, suddenly, this is some socialist overreach.
"So as all of you are doing your reporting, I think it's important to remember that the positions I'm taking now on the budget and a host of other issues, if we had been having this discussion 20 years ago, or even 15 years ago, would have been considered squarely centrist positions. What's changed is the center of the Republican Party."
Republican leaders issued some press releases this afternoon, complaining that the president's remarks were "tired" and "partisan." None, however, could point to anything Obama got wrong in this speech.