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Close Read: Examining Obama's Acceptance Speech

Sep 7, 2012
Originally published on September 7, 2012 10:15 am



It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP. HOST: And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Let's take a close read now of some of the lines from President Obama's convention speech last night.

MONTAGNE: We're checking meanings behind some of those phrases, as we did with Mitt Romney's speech one week ago. Three NPR correspondents will help us out.

HOST: NPR's Julie Rovner covers healthcare policy, Yuki Noguchi covers business, and Scott Horsley has been covering President Obama's campaign. Good morning to you all.



ROVNER: Good morning.

HOST: And they're all over the place. Go ahead, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Right. And this line appeared to - this line that we're going to hear right now appeared to answer Republican charges that Democrats are all about government.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We don't think government can solve all our problems. But we don't think that government is the source of all our problems - any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we're told to blame for our troubles.

MONTAGNE: And Scott Horsley, let's start with you. How is the president trying to define his party there?

HORSLEY: Well, as you mentioned, Renée, he starts with a little disclaimer - government can't solve all of our problems, pushing back against the notion that he or the Democratic Party is about big government liberalism. This is something that Barack Obama said many times in the past. But then he immediately pivots and says government itself is not the problem, as many Republicans would have you believe.

After all, as he and many others at this convention pointed out, had it not been for government intervention we would've seen the collapse of the financial industry. We would have seen the collapse of Chrysler, General Motors, maybe other auto makers. And then he rather economically nods to several important Democratic constituencies - unions, immigrants, gays, all of whom the Republican Party has alienated.

And he also says welfare recipients are not to blame for our problems. That's a rebuttal to Mitt Romney's discredited talking point that Mr. Obama is trying to weaken the work requirement in welfare reform.

HOST: Scott Horsley, I'm glad you mentioned the economic nods, as you said, economically nodding to Democratic constituencies; because last week Julie Rovner spoke to us about Mitt Romney base touching, making quick references to issues of passionate interest to conservatives. And with that in mind, let's listen to this speech, or this it of the speech from the president.


OBAMA: If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, than other voices will fill the void. The lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election, and those who are trying to make it harder for you to vote, Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control health care choices that women should be making for themselves.

HOST: Julie Rovner, what do you hear in there?

ROVNER: Well, the exact mirror image of what Mitt Romney did last week, which is this, you know, quick tangential reference to these issues after a convention that was full of them. And, you know, not only did the Democrats celebrate gay marriage, that the president has changed his position, but also this was a convention full of abortion rights.

Where the Democrats have been shying away from that the last few conventions, trying to say that they've got a big tent and they really welcome, you know, Democrats who are anti-abortion.

MONTAGNE: And let's move on to this election's central issue. The president spoke of a range of goals, and those definitely included economic goals.


OBAMA: Goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit - real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation.

MONTAGNE: Now, the president spoke of creating one million manufacturing jobs in the course of the next four years if he's reelected. Yuki, is that realistic?

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Well, it sounds like a lot but you have to keep in mind manufacturing may be on the mend now, but that sector lost a lot of jobs during the recession. And so, you know, assuming that the economy continues to recover, and Europe doesn't pose an even bigger problem, then, yes, it's possible.

But the thing is, manufacturing, when it comes back, isn't going to be the same kind of sector that it was before. That is, those jobs are going to require more technical know-how, require more training. And so in a lot of ways, the question is whether those one million jobs are of a different quality - that is to say, higher quality jobs - and whether the workers that were laid off in recent years can qualify for those jobs.

HOST: Does this dig into a difference, at least rhetorically, maybe in reality, between the parties as a deep difference? Because the president wants to promote manufacturing. He's even spoken of specific kinds of manufacturing like solar and wind energy. And to Republicans, they call that picking winners.

NOGUCHI: Right. Green jobs is something that the Republicans like to talk about as sort of indicative of Democratic overreach into the business sector. And, you know, it is sort of a similar point that Mitt Romney was trying to make when he talked about, you know, not intervening with the auto industry's troubles.

But of course, you've heard the Democrats, you know, come back and say, you know, we saved those jobs and without that we would've been in a much, much deeper hole.

MONTAGNE: And let's listen to another clip of last night's speech where the president claimed this achievement.


OBAMA: In the last year alone, we cut oil imports by one million barrels a day, more than any administration in recent history.

And today the United States of America is less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in the last two decades.

MONTAGNE: He then promised to cut oil import in half by 2020. Scott, what is his record here, and is that goal he spoke of last night achievable?

HORSLEY: Well, U.S. dependence on foreign oil was falling even before Mr. Obama came into office, going back to 2005. Certainly that trend accelerated on his watch. Last year we imported about 45 percent of our oil. That was a 16-year low. Some of this has nothing to do with the White House. The recession cut overall demand for oil, and nobody thinks that's a great thing, and we have seen a big jump in domestic production which the oil industry says happened despite Mr. Obama, not because of him.

Certainly he can claim credit for encouraging more greater fuel efficiency in the years to come, and that will help reduce our reliance on imported fuel. And the president does make the distinction, though, with that manufacturing goal of adding a million new jobs, he's starting counting now. With the cut in oil imports, they want to use as a starting line when Mr. Obama came into office.


Scott Horsley, don't go anywhere. I've got one more clip to play for you here.


OBAMA: You can choose a future where we reduce our deficit without sticking it to the middle class.

Independent experts say that my plan would cut our deficit by $4 trillion.

INSKEEP: Okay. Does the president have a plan that according to independent experts would cut the deficit by $4 trillion. Sounds like a lot of money.

HORSLEY: Well, the president has probably exaggerated the size of his own deficit-cutting plan. That plan includes some favorable assumptions about what's your starting point, that's always important, and he includes for example, war savings, that was probably money that was never going to be spent. But he did also echo Bill Clinton's line about arithmetic in challenging Mitt Romney's proposal, saying that if your goal is to fill the deficit hole, a big tax cut that digs the hole deeper, is a tough way to start.

MONTAGNE: And let's listen to another bit of tape from the speech last night, different subject.


OBAMA: You're the reason there is a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who'll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can't limit her coverage. You did that.

MONTAGNE: And Julie Rovner, what exactly is he referring to there?

ROVNER: Well, this, of course, is a reference to the Affordable Care Act, which even the Democrats at this convention have taken to calling Obamacare. This issue was, of course, a big loser for the Democrats two years ago, but they seem to think that it's going to help them this time around. The Supreme Court upheld the law, or most of it, in June. And the Democrats seem emboldened about talking about how it's already helping people, and more to the point, how it would hurt millions of people of Republicans are elected and repeal the first comprehensive overhaul of the nation's health system in a century, but it's a pretty risky strategy.

Polls show the law still isn't that popular, and lots of people still don't understand what it does and doesn't do. But they've decided that they want to answer the relentless Republican attacks with something, and that would be better than nothing, and after all, this is something the president promised to do, and he did, when so many presidents before him, Democrats and Republicans, couldn't.

INSKEEP: And maybe a different sort of base touching there as you put it earlier, Julie Rovner. Let me ask about one last thing very briefly on the health care subject - Medicare. The president and other Democrats were perfectly happy to say that Republicans want to turn that into a voucher program.

ROVNER: That's right. Medicare has been a favorite political punching bag for several elections now. Usually Democrats have used it against Republicans. Two years ago Republicans pointed out that the health law reduced spending for Medicare to help pay for the health law and turn the tables on the Democrats. Democrats are hoping to turn that around again. They point out that Paul Ryan's...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

ROVNER: ...proposed plan for Medicare would cap government spending for the program.


ROVNER: Leave it to private insurance companies to figure out...


ROVNER: to provide benefits. It's a hard concept, and it's not clear that the seniors are really going to get it.

INSKEEP: Got to stop you there.

ROVNER: There you go.

INSKEEP: Got to stop you there. Julie Rovner, Yuki Noguchi, and Scott Horsley on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.