The texts of Barack Obama’s recent speeches seem tailor-made for softening the White House’s often hostile description of American business, but the president’s impromptu additions are highlighting his efforts to subordinate business to government.
At a Jan. 11 event in the White House where Obama’s published speech praised businesses for hiring American workers, for example, he departed from his prepared script to toughen his demands for business to cooperate with his political goals.
The teleprompter text, distributed to reporters, included a quote from former Intel CEO Andy Grove, which explained the moral obligation he felt towards the United Sates after his 1956 escape from communism.
The script used Grove’s quote to set up the speech’s political punchline.
A moral obligation “is part of the responsibility that comes with being a leader in America. … That’s a responsibility we should all live up to,” the text read.
But Obama went in his own direction during his delivery, converting the “should” recommendation into a directive.
“That’s a responsibility that we all have to live up to,” said the president.
Obama’s demands that the commercial sector’s purposes be subordinated to government priorities — even outside the law — have brought increasing complaints from GOP legislators and free-market advocates about “crony capitalism.”
GOP front-runner Mitt Romney pushed that free-market position during his Jan. 10 victory speech in New Hampshire.
“President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial,” Romney said. “Our plans protect freedom and opportunity, and our blueprint is the Constitution of the United States … [not] ever increasing government checks and cradle-to-grave assurances that government will always be the solution.”
Obama’s also displayed his skepticism towards business in his Jan. 4 speech where he declared his controversial intention to bypass the Senate and install Richard Cordray to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“We know what would happen if Republicans in Congress were allowed to keep holding Richard’s nomination hostage,” he told the swing-state audience in a wealthy Cleveland, Ohio suburb. “More of our loved ones would be tricked into making bad financial decisions. More dishonest lenders could take advantage of some of the most vulnerable families.”
“Every day that we waited was another day when millions of Americans were left unprotected. … That’s inexcusable. It’s wrong. And I refuse to take no for an answer,” he told the crowd.
Obama’s promise to regulate commerce looks far beyond the enforcement of written laws and contracts between adults. Instead, it portrays government regulators as referees in myriad private-sector deals, and as responsible for ensuring that adults do not make “bad” financial decisions, and are not “take[n] advantage of.”
Notably, Obama did not mention federal regulators’ sometimes disastrous record.
For example, the federal rewrite of lending regulations in 1994 forced much mortgage-lending to poor people, and helped inflate the real estate bubble.
Still, Obama’s hard-edged text and delivery also aimed to soften his criticism of the financial sector by also declaring that in the absence of regulations, “the vast majority of financial firms who do the right thing would be undercut by those who don’t.”
That concession is politically understandable, partly because Obama wants political support and donations from executives on Wall Street and in the financial industry.
Yet, as with his Wednesday speech, his Jan. 4 ad-libs tended to take a harder line than his prepared text.
The Cleveland script declared that “for too long, we’ve had a financial system that stacked the deck against ordinary Americans.”
Obama somewhat toughened that language from the podium, saying that “for way too long, we’ve had a financial system that was stacked against ordinary Americans.”
These impromptu changes were revealed because the White House released the prepared text, which different slightly from Obama’s delivered speeches.
But in many instances, the White House does not release the text, making it impossible to be sure which portions are Obama’s ad-libs.
In a Jan. 9 speech to donors gathered at Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hilton hotel, Obama portrayed his supporters as the equivalent of Americans in the 1940s, as Minuteman in a pitched battle with the British army, and as anti-discrimination marchers in the 1960s.
“It takes you, ordinary citizens committed to fighting and pushing, inching this country forward bit by bit so we get closer to our highest ideals,” he declared in a stem-winder of a campaign speech to seven hundred donors. “That’s how this country was built. That’s how we freed ourselves from an empire.”
But that flattering comparison was dropped from a very similar portion of the speech he delivered to Chicago donors Jan. 11. It is unclear if Obama ad-libbed the Jan. 9 stretched comparison with Minutemen facing British Muskets, or if his speechwriting staff dialed back his flattery of donors two days later.
Obama’s Jan. 9 fundraising speech also included a coded claim that a GOP victory would somehow reinstitute racial discrimination. “The very core of what this country stands for is on the line — the basic promise that no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, this is a place where you could make it if you try,” he said.
That claim of racist intent on the GOP’s part, however, was dropped on Jan. 11. “The very core of what this country stands for is on the line — the basic promise that no matter who you are, where you come from, this is a place where you can make it if you try,” he told Chicago donors.
The White House released transcripts, but not the prepared texts, of the Jan. 9 and Jan. 11 speeches.