No president can perform miracles.
In his second press conference, President Obama acted as the nation’s chief counselor–as well as its commander in chief. He spoke of the virtues of patience. He cautioned that there are no silver bullets, quick fixes or easy ways out of this deepening recession. There will be bumps on the road. But he also spoke of recovery with a “renewed sense of common purpose, a renewed determination, and most importantly, a renewed confidence that a better day will come.”
After a week of righteous anger about Wall Street greed and bonuses, President Obama confronted the challenge of putting budgets and bailouts into a human context for people. Did he sell the idea that helping banks is about helping people, as he’d told us in his first address to Congress last month? Not clearly enough. But the President did make the case for the importance of passing his budget which, even with its flaws, is an audacious plan to transform America. If passed, it will mark a new era of progressive governance.
But the fight is on. You could see it in those Democrats turning tail, and fixating on deficits instead of investment; you could see it in the tenor of the questions from leading media correspondents whose obsession with red ink revealed they were in a time warp and out of touch with the pain and fear roiling this country. It was as if they had forgotten that we are in a deep recession, verging on Depression, which demands massive federal spending. (For how to get citizens’ questions into these conferences, check out our new cross-partisan project, “Ask The President” and join us to bring peoples’ voices into these press conferences.)
In a recent lead editorial, we warned that we are about to witness the Mother of all Budget Battles. Agribusiness, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Wall Street, the business lobby, the insurance companies, the military lobby – all are gearing up multi-million dollar lobbying campaigns to block, limit or delay the change. Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, are offering massive resistance, railing against deficit spending and taxes. A massive citizen mobilization will be needed in states across the country to sustain the reforms.
This mobilization will also demand new and hard facts. Here’s one: the real danger isn’t that Obama is spending too much, but too little.
The real threat we face isn’t the conservative howl about spending and inflation; it’s the clear and present danger of a global depression. Most likely, Obama will have to come back for another stimulus and more money for restructuring the banks. For obvious political reasons, he is eager to reassure Americans that he will halve the deficits by the end of his term. But until the downturn is stemmed, focus on deficit reduction is misleading if not dangerous. You wouldn’t have known that last night as one after another correspondent fixated on spending, until the reporter from Ebony asked about homeless children and the tent cities cropping up across the nation. Obama said he was “heartbroken” that any child would live like this in the world’s richest country.
The radical investment deficit which has ravaged this country–as Republicans with some Democratic complicity have worked to “starve the beast” is what we need to focus on in these grave times. We need to carry that message, those ideas of a new social contract, new investments in our nation, as we engage in the battle ahead of us.
At the end, Obama called on the country to change course. He spoke of how tough it is to turn a tanker around, to get it to change course after years tracking in the wrong direction. Those wrong directions have made us seasick ; we need to mobilize to turn it more quickly into the waters of relief, reform and recovery.