10/12/2012 06:55 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2012

"Good Evening...": A Speech Imagined for Barack Obama, President of the United States

This is a great nation. More than any other nation on the face of the earth, we are and have long been the premier destination for people who want to improve their condition, who are willing to leave every comfort behind to invest in themselves and their ideas in order to build a better life for their family and, as a result, for all of us.  A tolerant people, we have welcomed everyone from every corner of the earth, from every religion and every ethnic background who is willing to join with us in building a free society in which all have a chance to make the most of themselves. It is time now for all of us to make that kind of investment, on behalf of each of as individuals and all of us as a nation.

Our creativity and enterprise, our generosity and our capacity for hard work have been a beacon for the world. While we know that our bounty depends on our own effort, we have always known, too, that it depends on our neighborliness, on our willingness to help others when they are down, indeed to work together toward common ends that we can only accomplish as a community, from raising barns to educating our children.  We have always balanced present consumption with investment in our future, individual effort with communal effort.  That is how we got here. We are a practical people.  One of the miracles of this great country is the way we have sometimes toyed with the extremes but always returned to the sensible center.

My opponent has been playing a dangerous game.  Seeing that he could only be nominated by playing up to the extreme elements in his party, he did that.  And now, knowing that he can only be elected if he swings to the center, he is doing what he can to persuade you that he did not mean what he said during the primaries, indeed that he did not mean what he has been saying during this campaign until the first debate, the first time he had to speak to the whole nation.  

What does he really believe? More important, what would he really do if he is elected president? Does he know? Do you? Is he an extremist or a man of the center?  Does he believe that we are all in this together? Or does he really believe that we only need government to fight our wars and keep the land safe for big business -- which he keeps referring to as "small business"? Are we going together into the 21st century or separately back to the days of the Gilded Age when it was every family for itself and a feast for those with the most money and power in our society?

You need look no further for an answer than Mr. Romney's assertion during the debate that he was not, as I said he was, proposing a $5 trillion tax cut.  But he is proposing a $5 trillion tax cut. What he apparently meant to say was that his tax cut would be offset by cuts in expenditures. And therein lies the tale.  

Mr. Romney professes to be concerned, as I am, about our growing deficit.  I pointed out during the debate that Mr. Romney is proposing a $5 trillion tax cut, a return to the tax cuts granted by the Bush administration to the already wealthy, which would cost another $1 trillion, and an increase in the military budget of $2 trillion, an increase, by the way, that the military has not asked for.  We all know that, if your costs go up, you have to cover them with an increase in revenue.  If your revenue goes down, you have to cover that with a reduction in costs.  If you don't do these things, the only way you can reduce revenue and increase expenses is to borrow more money, which means increasing the deficit.  

Mr. Romney is proposing to increase cost and decrease revenue for a total of $8 trillion. But he is saying that he will not increase the deficit. Do you know what that means?  It means a reduction in expenditures that would destroy much of the social safety net and many other public programs built piece by piece since FDR was president and it would mean the gross reduction or elimination of many services that virtually all Americans have taken for granted for decades. I am talking about maintaining our national parks, providing the technology needed keep our commercial aircraft from crashing into one another, providing loans to our college students, making sure the Coast Guard is there to rescue you when your boat catches fire, helping out families whose wage earners have lost their jobs, supporting the research that produces new drugs for deadly diseases and much more. Big Bird is just the beginning.  

I encourage you to look at the arithmetic. My opponent is very coy. He says that the reason he can't tell you where he is going to make these enormous cuts is that they ought to be result of a process of negotiation with the Democrats. This is horse petuey. The reason he won't tell you where he would make the cuts is the same reason he won't let you see his tax returns for the last 10 years. He doesn't want you to know. He wants you to trust him. Do you trust him? Do you trust this man who clearly has in mind draconian cuts to the national budget but won't tell you where he would make them? His selection of a running mate should tell you what he has not himself told you, because Paul Ryan has not been shy about his intentions. Why do you suppose that the giant banks that nearly sank our entire country with their greed and amoral behavior are backing my opponent to the hilt? You don't suppose, do you, that they expect Mr. Romney to greatly relax the regulations I put in place to prevent the same thing happening again in another few years?

The only way Mr. Romney can keep his latest promises is to return this country to the days of Herbert Hoover, when one Republican administration after another believed that the condition of ordinary citizens was simply not their responsibility, who believed, in the words of a later sage, that what was good for General Motors was good for the country.  

These people believe that the people who make the most money in our society are what they call the "job creators." Henry Ford, no socialist for sure, had a more complicated idea.  He believed that he would sell more cars if he paid enough to his workers to enable them to buy his cars.  The people paying for Mr. Romney's campaign are not the lobby for increasing the minimum wage or the lobby in favor of strong unions that see their job as making sure that the average worker gets his or her share.  The fact is that wages in the United States for the average worker have been going down for years even while corporate profits have been increasing and executive salaries have been going through the roof.  That is what you get when you put your trust in the hands of the "job creators."

I have news for you and Mr. Romney. Many of the jobs that we lost during the Great Recession are not coming back. The great "job creators" were sitting on enormous piles of cash during the great recession and they invested a lot of it.  They did not invest it in jobs here in the United States, however. They invested some of it in jobs overseas where they thought the investment returns were higher, and they invested enormous sums in automating jobs here in the United States.  If we wait, as Mr. Romney suggests, for the "job creators" to use their riches to create American jobs, we will wait a long, long time.

The jobs that are gone, the ones that can be done by machines, are the routine jobs. The jobs of the future, the jobs from which the next American industrial revolution will come, are the jobs requiring a great education, very high skills and a big dollop of American creativity.  That means that, to succeed, to make the most of what matters most -- our people -- we will have to invest big time in getting our students to much higher levels of achievement. Not so long ago, we had the best education system in the world.  Today we are just average.  Not so long ago, we had the best-educated work force in the world.  Not any more.  We have to change that.  One key is making sure that we are educating our students to standards as high as any in the world.  Not Mr. Romney.  He has pledged to end any federal effort to insist on internationally benchmarked standards for our students.  His budget plan would cripple federal support to our schools and would do nothing to upgrade the skills of the people currently in the workforce.  The time is now. If we do nothing to invest in our people, I can assure you the future will simply pass us by.

Mr. Romney says he wants to put our people back to work.  He says the way to do that is to lower taxes on the "job creators," the wealthiest people in our society.  Let's not do that. Let's let the taxes on the rich stay what they were in the Clinton administration rather then giving them a big tax break they don't need. Let's not give the military budget a giant a giant increase our military never asked for. And for sure, let's not savage the Coast Guard, the budget for medical research, the money needed to make sure our planes stay aloft, or even Big Bird. We don't need to do those things.  

Why not replace our ancient water mains and sewers and bridges, construct a new utility grid that is much more efficient and much more resistant to sabotage from cyber terrorists, modernize our railroads and install a national Internet system faster and more reliable than any in the world? Now is the time, with interest rates lower than they will ever be again in any of our lifetimes.

Instead of unbalancing the budget by $8 trillion for the purposes proposed by Mr. Romney, let's leave $4 trillion in the till and borrow half of what Mr. Romney's proposal would cost to make the crucial investments in our people and in our infrastructure that could not only turn our economy around, but set us up for a brilliant success far into the future?

The key to getting our economy moving again is putting our people back to work and growing the economy. Do that and we will get our investment back with interest, just like we did when we invested in our auto companies when they were down on their luck. With interest rates where they are now, the money would cost us next to nothing. We will never have such an opportunity again. Think of how many people we could put to work how much more productive this country would be with more efficient transportation, communication and utility systems. With that kind of infrastructure, American business could once again conquer the world.

It is absolutely true that this country has to get its deficit and its budgets under control. But it is not the Coast Guard and Big Bird that is busting the budget. The single biggest driver is swiftly rising health care costs. The Republican solution to that problem is to shift a very large share of those costs to you, the individual, to make you, not Medicare or Medicaid, shoulder those costs. That is what Paul Ryan's budget does. If that happens, you will have less and less to pay for groceries, gas and a roof over your head. If you don't like that answer, try my answer. It is called Obamacare, which contains a whole gaggle of measures to reduce the cost of providing care without curtailing quality of that care, and, not incidentally, provides a remarkable range of new services to women that they have long deserved but never gotten till now. Go take a look.

On a larger canvas, it is clear that we have to reduce the cost of government. For years, Mr. Romney's party have proposed to do this by cutting the budget. My party preferred to close the gap by raising revenue. A year ago, I went to the Congress to propose that we compromise, that we reduce the deficit by doing both, cutting benefits and raising taxes. In fact, I offered to do a lot more budget cutting than tax raising. Mr. Romney's party would have none of it. They are not interested in compromise. It is their way or the highway. Mr. Romney has not deviated from that position. If you re-elect me, I will take that as a sign that the American people are more interested in compromise than my-way-or-the-highway politics. I hope the other side sees it that way, too. Maybe you can help them see it that way.

The Republicans are using the deficit as an excuse to accomplish their real project, which is to radically reduce the size of government in the United States.  That is fine for the very rich, who have their own airplanes, their own power supplies, their own security services, their own little enclaves, but it is not fine for the rest of us.  Nor is it fine for those rich, like Warren Buffet, who still believe that we have obligations to one another, a sense of community, of fairness and justice.

Go back and look at the numbers, my fellow Americans. Since the end of the Vietnam war, year after year, one administration after another, the Republicans have added much more to the federal deficit than the Democrats. Are these the people you would now trust to reduce the size of the debt our children would have to bear? I repeat, this is not about the deficit. Their talk about the deficit is a smokescreen for demolishing the government, and, in the process, making the lives of most Americans poorer and meaner.

The fact is that American business and American government need each other. Business is our powerhouse.  And a thriving private economy is the key to our personal freedoms for which we have fought so hard.  But business cannot function without rules and regulations.  Mr. Romney says he believes that, but in the next breath says that a key to American prosperity is getting rid of government regulations.  Really?  Are our memories so short?  Have we forgotten why the first Roosevelt, a Republican, drove the Food and Drug Act through the Congress?  Have we forgotten the unspeakable things that investigators found in the meatpacking plants that produced this legislation?  Do we really think that we have to allow our electric companies to pollute our rivers and streams with acid and poison our children with mercury, in an age when low cost, clean natural gas is on the horizon?  Do we really have to allow pipelines to operate here that would almost certainly make it impossible to control the temperature of the earth as sea levels continue to rise and imperil people worldwide who live by the sea?  Is there no sense of balance here?  I urge you to think about what kind of life you want for your children before you consider doing what is expedient in the short term and deadly for our children and our environment in the long term.

The way to get out of our financial mess is to grow our economy.  The way to do that is to invest in our people and in our infrastructure.  If I am your next president, that is what I will do.  It is what I have been doing.  It is what I would have done more of if the opposing party had not put up roadblocks at every turn.  Mr. Romney chided me in the first debate because I had not, he said, done as president what he had done as governor of Massachusetts.  As governor, he said, he had sat down with the Democratic House and Senate and worked with them to produce sound solutions to the state's problems. To which I say, you were lucky, Mr. Romney, to be dealing with Democrats, people who were willing to sit down with you and work together with you in the interest of the people of Massachusetts.  Your crowning achievement was to put in place a health care plan that was the idea of Republican think tanks in Washington, D.C. When I put a virtually identical plan in front of the Republicans in the Congress, they simply refused to consider it, as they have refused to consider virtually all of my proposals.  When they could not work their will when they were in the majority, they insisted on misusing the rules of the Senate to frustrate the will of the majority.

I suggest to you, the people of the United States, that the plan put forward by Mr. Romney is the economic plan offered by three Republican presidents in the years preceding the Great Depression and by the Republican president who presided over the onset of the Great Recession. It is the virtually the same plan offered by the current conservative government in Britain, which has now gone back into recession. The International Monetary fund has just announced a new set of projections for the leading industrial economies. They say that the United States is the only economy likely to enjoy reasonable growth this next year, among all the industrial economies. But all bets are off we adopt the policies recommended by my opponent. If you want a president who believes enough in you to invest in you and your future now, then vote for me. If you want a president who appears to want to go back to the policies of Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush, go for it, but don't blame me when the roof comes crashing down.