Obama Then And Now: Eight Years Later, the Speech is the Same

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Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

President Barack Obama speaks about the economy during a visit to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois July 24, 2013.

President Barack Obama delivered what  aides billed as a major economic address at Knox College Wednesday. It was a speech written to recall his first economic policy speech on the national stage at the small Illinois liberal arts college in 2005. But the similarities were more than subject matter. In eight years, through two presidential campaigns and in the White House, Obama has repeatedly cribbed his own 2005 speech.

The original speech, by former chief speechwriter Jon Favreau, was a deeply important one to Obama, who would mention it to campaign aides frequently. Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director for Obama’s 2o08 campaign, tweeted Wednesday that he was glad to finally return to the scene of the speech the president never stopped talking about. “Excited to finally visit Knox College after hearing abt it from POTUS for 6 yrs in every mtg abt economic speeches,” he wrote.

(MORE: With More Deadlock Ahead, Obama Condemns Republicans In Economic Speech)

In February, New York magazine drew the connection between some of Obama’s most important speeches and the 2005 address, including his 2011 economic address in Osawatomie, Kan., the 2012 Democratic National Convention speech, and his remarks when he first announced for president in 2007.

Knox commencement: “Every man or woman for him- or herself. It’s a tempting idea, because it doesn’t require much thought or ingenuity. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford: tough luck. It allows us to say to the Maytag workers who have lost their job: Life isn’t fair. It lets us say to the child who was born into poverty: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And it is especially tempting because each of us believes we will always be the winner in life’s lottery, that we’re the one who will be the next Donald Trump, or at least we won’t be the chump to whom Donald Trump says: ‘You’re fired!’ ”

Democratic convention speech, September 6, 2012: “If you can’t afford health insurance, hope that you don’t get sick. If a company releases toxic pollution into the air your children breathe, well, that’s just the price of progress. If you can’t afford to start a business or go to college, take my opponent’s advice and ‘borrow money from your parents.’ ”

Officials say these similarities are planned, and demonstrate the breadth of Obama’s commitment to improving jobs for the middle class. Obama’s Wednesday remarks, clocking in at over an hour, didn’t include any new policy proposals, but invoked many of his various plans introduced over the past four and a half years. Republicans seized on the similarities Wednesday, with the Republican National Committee clipping the similar parts of the speech to show that Obama offered new ideas.

(VIDEO: Obama’s Economy Speech in 3 Minutes)

Courtesy of the RNC, here’s yesterday’s remarks and similar passages from eight years earlier:

2005: When World War II required the most massive homefront mobilization in history and we needed every single American to lend a hand, we had to decide: Do we listen to skeptics who told us it wasn’t possible to produce that many tanks and planes? Or, did we build Roosevelt’s Arsenal for Democracy and grow our economy even further by providing our returning heroes with a chance to go to college and own their own home?

Yesterday: In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity.  Whether you owned a company, swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain – a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and, above all, to hand down a better life for your kids.

2005: It’s as if someone changed the rules in the middle of the game and no one bothered to tell these folks. And, in reality, the rules have changed.
It started with technology and automation that rendered entire occupations obsolete—when was the last time anybody here stood in line for the bank teller instead of going to the ATM, or talked to a switchboard operator?

Yesterday: But over time, that engine began to stall.  That bargain began to fray.  Technology made some jobs obsolete.  Global competition sent others overseas.  It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class. Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the rich and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor. The link between higher productivity and people’s wages and salaries was severed – the income of the top 1% nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, while the typical family’s barely budged.

2005: Then it continued when companies like Maytag were able to pick up and move their factories to some under developed country where workers were a lot cheaper than they are in the United States.

Yesterday: You see, I’d just spent a year traveling this state and listening to your stories – of proud Maytag workers losing their jobs when their plant moved down to Mexico; of teachers whose salaries weren’t keeping up with the rising cost of groceries; of young people who had the drive but not the money to afford a college education.

2005: What if we prepared every child in America with the education and skills they need to compete in the new economy?  If we made sure that college was affordable for everyone who wanted to go? If we walked up to those Maytag workers and we said “Your old job is not coming back, but a new job will be there because we’re going to seriously retrain you and there’s life-long education that’s waiting for you—the sorts of opportunities that Knox has created with the Strong Futures scholarship program.

Yesterday: If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21stcentury.  If we don’t make this investment, we’ll put our kids, our workers, and our country at a competitive disadvantage for decades.  So we must begin in the earliest years.  That’s why I’ll keep pushing to make high-quality preschool available to every four year-old in America – not just because we know it works for our kids, but because it provides a vital support system for working parents.  I’ll also take action to spur innovation in our schools that don’t require Congress.  Today, for example, federal agencies are moving on my plan to connect 99% of America’s students to high-speed internet over the next five years. And we’ve begun meeting with business leaders, tech entrepreneurs, and innovative educators to identify the best ideas for redesigning our high schools so that they teach the skills required for a high-tech economy.

2005:  It’s been the creation of a massive middle class, through decent wages and benefits and public schools that allowed us all to prosper. Our economic dependence depended on individual initiative.

Yesterday: We’ll need our businesses, the best in the world, to pressure Congress to invest in our future, and set an example by providing decent wages and salaries to their own employees.

2005: That the best idea is to give everyone one big refund on their government—divvy it up by individual portions, in the form of tax breaks, hand it out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, their own education, and so on.

Yesterday: Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the rich and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor.

MORE: Why Obama Keeps Going Back to One Small Illinois College