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Obama the War President?

Barack Obama was a war president tonight. And, yes, I mean to haul out some of the baggage the last president attached to the term.

What stood out in Obama’s second press conference as president were the threats. If we don’t embrace Obama’s budget priorities, this country won’t just fail to meet its potential. If Congress doesn’t induce a market for renewable energy, invest in all manner of infrastructure or take up his health proposals, America simply “won't grow.”

Asked about his plan to eliminate tax write-offs for charitable giving, he foretold of economic catastrophe if he didn’t get the policy: “I'll tell you what has a significant impact on charitable giving, is a financial crisis and an economy that's contracting.”

He even wore a flag pin.

And, for good measure, he dubiously insisted that the alternative was to “stand pat” and to “continue to contract.” Who, indeed, would prefer that?

The president’s words were, frankly, scary. Obama needed them to be. He has high ambitions, seeking to grab hold of nearly every third rail in town. And because an economic disaster has shaken the country, his warnings have a ring of plausibility they would never have had before the financial crisis hit. He is also right that rising health care costs could bankrupt the country in the long-term -- even if the American economy could zoom along without, say, pouring federal cash into rural broadband.

As his predecessor discovered, though, Obama can ring the alarm only so many times before his warnings lose their power. And we learned tonight that the president has a lot more he wants to do. He had to grant that, for all the ambition in his budget, he hasn’t fully tackled the greatest long-term challenge facing American policymakers: reform of untouchable but increasingly expensive entitlement programs, which drain more and more of the federal budget each year. Saving enough money on those will have to take “a whole host of adjustments” over coming years.

It’s not even clear Obama’s dire warnings can focus Congress’s mind enough to pass the reforms he just proposed. In fact, tonight he signaled that he has already ceded ground. Obama all but admitted that he would give up some of the middle-class tax cuts he wants and that a cap-and-trade regime to limit Carbon emissions might not make it into in the budget Congress is currently assembling.

Pitching his whole reform package as the only way to avoid economic calamity might be the only way for his presidency to avoid a political one. Even then, it’s pretty risky.

Update: Some in the comments section point out that Obama doesn't want to totally eliminate all tax write-offs for charitable contributions; he wants to limit those wealthy Americans can claim. They are right, and I should have been clearer. Thanks.

By Stephen Stromberg  | March 24, 2009; 10:59 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Next: What Obama Didn't Say

Comments

You must know that referring to Obama's "plan to eliminate tax write-offs for charitable giving" is a gross distortion -- heck, I'll call it by the right name, a LIE.

His plan is to REDUCE tax writeoffs for charitable giving -- for SOME extremely wealthy individuals, and not even by all that much.

Call it what it is instead of hysterically exaggerating it, and then it will be possible to debate it rationally.

Posted by: herzliebster | March 25, 2009 12:31 AM | Report abuse

" Even then, it’s pretty risky."

Sure it is. The risk is that a percent will see a way to gain if he fails and demand an immediate surrender to avoid further loss. But we must fund our engines of production. At least we have a history of Presidents that do not give up. President Obama is following that tradition.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | March 25, 2009 4:39 AM | Report abuse

"...his plan to eliminate tax write-offs for charitable giving..."

Guess the Post's fact-checker didn't show up for work today. Again.

Posted by: hellslittlestangel1 | March 25, 2009 5:55 AM | Report abuse

Obama the War President?

There’s a place and time for everything under the sun. To a point I conclude that President Obama was a bit on the warside in this agenda. But for every right reason, he should have been. This was the right time for him to do so. Enough is enough and too much is too much, so let’s be real people. The president’s agenda for restoration has incorporated a plan that has a high probability of restoration for our country. Yet the controversy and opposition stemming from it appears to be circulating around those whom could care less about our status which is why the last administration accrued such a huge deficit. E=mc2, so people let go and let live. Care enough for your fellowman to want him/her and your future generation to enjoy the comfort of life that America has to offer all people by doing the right thing. Let’s do this together. Where’s the love America because I see the greed…God Bless America!

Posted by: Nisey01 | March 25, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Insightful. Augustine warned us the Manichean heresy would be hard to excise.

Posted by: dpascover | March 26, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Obama is preparing to do all of these spendings and polices because of his political beleifs which affects his political behavior. He has seen how the polices of the bush adminstration has left our country in horrible shape. ANd now it is up to obama to implement new ones to return our country not just our economy back to a stable state.Obama's beleifs are in away change our social factors and create new policies and the econonmy will fix its self. We can't only just think about the economy we have to look and try and work with other problems as well. Obama doesn't just want to work one issue because then one issue will get sovled in a long period of time and with any changes in where else in society the issue won't have any support and return to its original bad state.

Posted by: rkrgldr | March 28, 2009 2:26 AM | Report abuse

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