As an artifact of the diminishment of President Barack Obama, it is hard to top his newly released pamphlet, “The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs and Middle-Class Security.”
The plan purports, first, to be a plan, and second, to outline a second-term agenda distinct from his first-term agenda. It fails on both counts. It cobbles together his current policies with some ill-defined new bullet points to barely cover 20 pages largely devoted to nice pictures of the president.
Make no mistake: What the Obama agenda lacks in substance, it makes up in graphic design. The pamphlet has as much gloss and as many soft-focus photos as a copy of Playboy. The besotted Obama fan might have to assure friends, “No, really — I only read the Obama second-term plan for the policy details.”
Why would the president wait until 14 days before the election, after the conventions and the debates, to release his plan? And then print 3.5 million copies of it, making the plan a publishing phenomenon to rival “Dreams From My Father”?
It’s the panicked realization that his campaign’s attempted destruction of Mitt Romney hasn’t worked and isn’t enough to win. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week found that 62 percent of people want major changes in a prospective Obama second term. Four percent — that’s almost down to Obama administration officials and immediate family — want more of the same.
So the president needed someone to get on QuarkXPress to paste together “a new plan” and then run down to FedEx Office. Pronto. But the president couldn’t hit “print” during debate season, lest he give his opponent another target. Romney would have loved to cite the risible document as Exhibit A for Obama’s status-quo presidency.
If the pamphlet works, it deserves to join the ranks of such classic picture books as “Go, Dog. Go!” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” In an amusing touch, it has a table of contents — as if readers would have trouble navigating the extensive volume. It’s a wonder the campaign didn’t include a guide to the dramatis personae — Barack Obama, Barack Obama and Barack Obama — like it were a critical edition of “Anna Karenina.”
The pamphlet’s manufacturing section touts the creation of a new network of 15 to 20 manufacturing innovation institutes and a new trade-enforcement unit. Heady stuff. The big idea is a reform of the corporate tax code. Obama calls for reducing rates and making up revenue by closing tax preferences and loopholes — in other words, exactly what Romney is proposing.
The energy pages take credit for the country’s oil and gas boom, to which the president has been a bystander. Its celebration of subsidies for green energy takes no account of the disappointments of his first four years of lavishly funding alternative energy.
The upshot of the health-care portion is that if you liked “Obamacare” in the first term, you’ll love it in the second. The pamphlet doesn’t mention the roughly $2 trillion in new spending, nor the Congressional Budget Office estimate that 20 million people could lose their employer-provided health insurance. (Those points must have been crowded out by the inspiring photo of Obama discussing weighty matters with doctors in white coats.)
On the deficit, the pamphlet touts the same old $4 trillion plan, which is a little more than a hoary talking point. On entitlements, the president’s plan evidently is to do nothing on Medicaid, do nothing on Social Security and do nothing on Medicare, except pretend that his $716 billion in cuts to fund “Obamacare” were a boon to the program.
The pamphlet is quite the comedown for the president. Gone are the days when he was overpromising. Now, he’s trying to cover for his lack of anything new to promise. The Berlin speech in 2008 and the second-term pamphlet are the antipodes of the Obama phenomenon. He has gone from airy and grandiose to airy and picayune in the span of four short years.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.