Command and Control

Pres. Obama has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

By now, it’s clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring.

What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives — action that’s swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis.

Because each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

Okay, and?

That’s why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan before Congress. With it, we will create or save more than 3 million jobs over the next two years, provide immediate tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, ignite spending by businesses and consumers alike, and take steps to strengthen our country for years to come.

This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending — it’s a strategy for America’s long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it’s a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We’ve seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

There’s more, but it’s more of the same. This is Obama’s stump speech. That’s not what’s needed. What’s needed is a barnburner.

The problem is not “misguided criticisms” or mistaken “notions.” Senate Republicans and some “moderate” Democrats are making a conscious decision to respond to a global economic tsunami as if it were a bit of spotty weather.

I think that Obama should stop assuming good faith on the part of Republicans in Congress. These are not stupid men and women. They have eyes, ears, and brains, and they know what’s going on. They simply don’t care — or they care more about protecting their wealthy, powerful political base than the 626,000 Americans who filed new unemployment claims last week alone.

This is what Americans are facing: Unemployment offices across the country can no longer effectively manage the claims that are flooding in, and as a result people are facing long delays in getting their benefits:

Thousands of people in the Washington area and hundreds of thousands more across the country are waiting longer than they should for unemployment benefits at a time when they need the money the most because rising joblessness is overwhelming claims offices, records show.

The problem is compounded by a simultaneous decrease in federal funding, which has reduced staffing at some local government offices. The result is that the District and many states, including Maryland and Virginia, are failing to meet federal guidelines that require timely processing of unemployment claims, appeals and benefit payments, the records show.

Obama knows what Americans are facing, but he may only now be starting to realize how angry we are:

Livid about their own vanished jobs and decimated retirement accounts, people across the country are being subjected to story after story about the excesses of the wealthy: the $18 billion paid out in Wall Street bonuses last year, the $35,000 chest of drawers for the Merrill Lynch chief executive’s office, the planned Wells Fargo retreat in Las Vegas. This week, they got a new target: an Obama Cabinet nominee who had earned millions and failed to pay all of his taxes.

Obama has searched for the right tone for taking the transgressors to task while not crossing into glib point-scoring that could spook the business class. …

That’s the problem, right there. The “business class” and the desire not to “spook” them is what got us into this disaster to begin with, and it’s what will keep us there until Pres. Obama steps around them and makes his case directly to the American people. Op-eds in the Washington Post are good as far as they go, but in Barbara O’Brien’s words, “that message needs to be read to everyone in America.”

Barbara also points to several media commentaries — most notably, Michael Hirsh in Newsweek and E.J. Dionne, Jr., in the Washington Post — that rather bluntly advise Pres. Obama to start advocating for his economic stimulus measures with an urgency that matches the urgency of the crisis we’re facing.

As Dionne pointedly notes, “… the media cannot be counted on to be either liberal or permanently enchanted with any politician[, arguments] left unanswered can take hold, whether they make sense or not[, and] … [no] occupant of the White House has ever been able to walk on water.”

Put another way, Republican lies, distortions, and obfuscations will not magically debunk or clarify themselves. They must be debunked and clarified, by Barack Obama. If he does not do that, no matter how far superior his vision is, it will fail.

3 Responses to “Command and Control”

  1. gcotharn says:

    This will interest you, if you haven’t seen it. It proffers areas of adjustment and/or learning for Pres. Obama:

    1. Campaign Jetsons technology vs. White House Flintstones technology

    The Obama team “built this incredible campaign and now they have these ridiculously primitive tools. The communication tools they mastered don’t exist in the White House. It’s like they are in a cave,” said Trippi.

    “Then there are the masters of the Stone Age [Repubs on Capitol Hill], and they are doing a good job,” he added.

    2. Disconnects in the public campaign for the legislation.

    A host of unions and liberal advocacy groups have stepped up to try to help Obama move the legislation through Congress. Their intentions are all good, but it’s an untested alliance given the Obama’s decision to shun such independent support in the campaign. The effort also lacks the dramatic punch — and deep pockets — that became the signature of his campaign.

    According to Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, about $65,000 has been spent on pro-stimulus ads in a handful of states.

    In the last week of the presidential campaign, Obama was spending an average of $250,000 a day on commercials in the Philadelphia market, alone.
    […]
    the legally required lack of coordination between the White House and its newest allies has led to other inefficiencies.

    3. Learning to play well with others

    During the campaign, Obama had complete control over his message. Now, he doesn’t, and that’s not an easy adjustment for any president.

    Obama must suddenly yield turf to both Capitol Hill and outside interest groups who are trying to help. The results in both cases can be messy.

    4. Owning the bully pulpit

    But the Obama team hasn’t mastered the less-is-more formula that isolates a presidential appearance for maximum impact.

    Simply put, the way to exploit a White House moment is not to compete with it.

    I chuckled when I read your post. Kind of harsh! You are sort of saying Pres. Obama is about posturing (campaign type platitudes in WaPo) instead of substance (debunking Repubs and selling the bill on the merits). Where have I heard that before? Where have I heard that Barack Obama is heavy on posturing and thin on substance? Can’t imagine!

  2. Kathy says:

    You are sort of saying Pres. Obama is about posturing (campaign type platitudes in WaPo) instead of substance (debunking Repubs and selling the bill on the merits).

    Sort of saying? I guess that’s your way of maintaining plausible deniability when I tell you that’s not what I said at all.

  3. gcotharn says:

    Fair point: “sort of saying” doesn’t work.

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