"My rival in this race," President Obama announced early in 2007, "is not other candidates. It's cynicism." Sadly, it's now evident cynicism won.
In a much-hyped speech at Knox College on Wednesday, Obama sought to pivot back to the economy - as the journalistic cliché goes - and shape the issue environment for the 2014 congressional elections.
Because of an "endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals," the president said, "Washington's taken its eye off the ball." The ball here is the economy, in case you didn't know.
It's an odd claim. Elected twice, Obama is in the fifth year of his presidency. During his first two years in office, his party controlled both houses of Congress and rammed through its agenda. Largely as a result, Democrats lost the House in 2010, but they have retained the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid has been playing the Igor to Obama's Dr. Frankenstein ever since.
At Obama's bidding, the Senate failed to pass a budget for four years and refused to take up any meaningful legislation passed by the House.
It's also odd that Obama has pivoted back to the economy when, depending on whose estimates you use, he's made similar "pivots" on average every two to four months since he's been elected.
But it's not just odd, it's deeply cynical. For starters, it was the re-elected president - not "Washington" - who took his eyes off the economy to exploit a tragedy for new gun controls that would not have prevented the tragedy itself. His unilateral crackdown on carbon emissions isn't exactly a full-throated effort to create jobs either. When Congress took its eye off the ball by taking up immigration reform, the White House cheered.
Even now, the cynic in chief admits that his "highest priority" is neither economic growth nor job creation, but reducing income inequality. In fairness, he says he wants to reduce inequality through something called "middle-out" economic growth taxing the wealthy (again). But my hunch is that the highest priority for those without work is ... work. The president's highest priority is to exploit resentments.
But most cynical of all is Obama's contempt for the "phony scandals" that have plagued him. Which ones are phony, exactly? The Department of Justice's monitoring of journalists was sufficiently outrageous that Obama ordered the attorney general to review DOJ policies. Why do that if the concerns were phony? When a few rogue IRS agents in Cincinnati were alleged to have deliberately targeted conservative groups, Obama said it would be "outrageous" if true. But when that cover story is proved a deliberate lie from an IRS official in Washington, and it's revealed thanks to congressional oversight that the policy actually went all the way to an Obama political appointee, the scandal suddenly becomes "phony." Odd how that works.
On the NSA wiretapping revelations, I agree with Obama that it is not necessarily a scandal but a major policy dispute. Then again, many of the people who do think widespread secret electronic surveillance is scandalous happen to be members of Obama's base. He can have that argument with them.
Finally, there was last year's Sept. 11 attack on our Benghazi compound and the president's response to it. The White House has long said this was a phony scandal. It also said that the deadly attack was sparked by a YouTube video, until that was proved to be a lie. That deliberate deceit sparked a national conversation about whether we needed to give savages a heckler's veto on American free-speech rights.
But that's the theme of this entire presidency. Others - Washington, Republicans, the Constitution, the global economy, Bush, et al. - are always to blame. In 2014, cynicism won't be on the ballot. He'll be in the White House.
Email Jonah Goldberg at JonahsColumn@aol.com