Maybe next time President Barack Obama’s conservative critics would be happier if he puts on a Navy flight suit and hang glides down onto Wall Street into a crowd of hedge fund managers holding aloft a huge banner that reads: “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.”
On second thought, they might claim that Obama was stealing their ideas.
Taking heat from a number of commentators for being “overexposed” during a week of appearances on ESPN, The Tonight Show and 60 Minutes, and with an op-ed published in 30 newspapers around the world outlining his economic vision, the president went live and direct again Tuesday in his second nationally televised, prime-time press conference.
Going in with a 64 percent approval rating, Obama continued to emphasize his view that comprehensive and coordinated long-term legislative action on the banking sector, health care, education and energy policy is needed to shore up the U.S. economy in the long term, and short term—nibbling around the edges of current economic contraction with a few tax cuts here and there isn’t going to get the job done.
Operation Restore Banks
The TARP bailout is Obama’s Somalia. Bill Clinton took the blame for the ill-fated, early ‘90s U.S. military operation in Somalia, but it’s usually forgotten that it was George H.W. Bush who committed American troops there in the last days of his administration. Obama appears to see the same kind of misdirected blame coming at him in the form of George W. Bush’s botched first pass at bailing out banks—and he clearly has no intention of getting sandbagged like Clinton. First telling 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft that he spends a lot of time dealing with his predecessors’ “less than optimal decisions,” Obama made sure to lead off his prepared remarks by noting that “this crisis didn’t happen overnight … it took many years and many failures to lead us here.”
Ever Heard of Foreplay?
One of the odd patterns of the Bush 43 presidency was that the former president routinely disappeared from public view for weeks at a time, and then appeared out of nowhere like a cuckoo bird in front of cameras with a major pronouncement. (“We’re privatizing Social Security … we’re doing amnesty for illegal immigrants … never mind, we’re not…”) And Americans were eventually left feeling like we were on a bad third date with someone who was moderately attractive but sort of awkward in the bedroom. With a budget package as big as the one Obama has proposed, the past week’s media foreplay probably didn’t hurt. By the time Obama got down to the business of the press conference, reporters and the rest of us watching at home were primed for serious talk.
Harvard Law – 1, Press Corps – 0
When asked the question about AIG that everyone was waiting for—“Why did it take so long?” —for Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to address public outrage, the president had a ready answer that is difficult to argue with: “I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.” As a guy trained in the Socratic crucible of Harvard Law, who had his entire life examined in sometimes painful detail over the course of a two-year presidential campaign and who now is working on, among other things, figuring out how to get Iran’s supreme leader to follow him on Twitter, Obama wasn’t likely to be flustered by that one.
But like E.F. Hutton, when Obama talks, everyone listens.
So he’s communicating to the public that right now, his budget proposal is the only one in town. And he's preempting Republican opposition by asserting that “even if we were not doing health care, we were not doing energy, we were not doing education, they’d still have a whole bunch of problems” with his budget, but “the only difference is that we will not have invested in what’s necessary to make this economy grow.”
It’s not particularly sexy, but the dominant theme came through pretty clearly. And although it may not be as good as some of the platinum-plated presidential slogans of the past like “ask not what your country can do for you” and “we have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Obama can probably go ahead and print the bumper sticker for his new economic rallying cry: “Scared money don’t make none.”
It’s either that or “Always bet on black.”
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.