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Obama's Teachable Moment II

President Obama may have had a creepy case of the giggles in his interview with "60 Minutes" that aired last night, but he said something that would be worth coming back to, and expanding, in his prime-time news conference tomorrow night.

One of the things that I have to do is to communicate to Wall Street that, given the current crisis that we're in, they can't expect help from taxpayers but they enjoy all the benefits that they enjoyed before the crisis happened. You get a sense that, in some institutions that has not sunk in. That you can't go back to the old way of doing business, certainly not on the taxpayers' dime. Now the flip side is that Main Street has to understand, unless we get these banks moving again, then we can't get this economy to recover. And we don’t want to cut off our nose to spite our face.

The unsettling pitchfork waving last week was a signal that the president is going to have to sit the nation down for a serious talking to. Obama must give some tough love to the financial sector by stating clearly that things will never be as they were. He must make it clear to the taxpayers that getting credit markets flowing again will mean swallowing a bitter but necessary pill. And he will have to clearly explain the consequences if that bitter pill is not taken. Obama should break out the charts, graphs and laser pointer for a teach-in that will leave the American people with a better understanding of what's going on, why he's doing what he's doing and what he expects the outcomes of his actions will be.

If past is prologue, he will open tomorrow night's White House press conference with a statement. It is then that he should give a speech on the country's financial situation akin to the one he gave on race. The beautiful thing about that address, delivered a year ago last week (March 18, 2008), is that he talked to the American people like adults about something very serious in the country. The financial meltdown counts as something serious, and having a little presidential truth-telling right now is warranted.

I aired this suggestion on "Morning Joe" on Friday and, man, did I hit a nerve.

I heard from Facebook friends. Alicia Knight from Washington, D.C., agreed with my idea and wrote,"I think that would go a long way toward soothing people's nerves and giving people confidence in the recovery."

And then I heard from sources on Capitol Hill. One said, "I made precisely the same suggestion -- a speech on the lines of the race speech on the financial crisis -- to the White House leg affairs shop yesterday. Of course, I also added that he needs to have a fairly comprehensible and comprehensive plan to describe. Folks need to have confidence that the administration has a path out of this abyss, so just telling folks we're in the soup and it's going to be expensive to get out of it will just engender more frustration and anger."

Teddy Grover of Louisiana wrote, "I hope he or someone from his administration heard you. I want him to SUCCEED." And, emphatically urging me to "Call the White House!", Jolene Galegher of Virginia wrote, "I've felt for a long time that such a speech re our economic circumstances and what he is doing to address them is needed."

Just as the impertinent sermons by Obama's former pastor that exposed the nation's deep racial wounds -- and that threatened to crash his high-flying campaign for the Democratic nomination -- the nosedive of the nation's and the world's economic systems provides Obama with another teachable moment.

An irate friend in New York in an e-mail bubbling over in frustration wrote, "Too much is getting staffed out. Obama's the boss -- I'd bone up on more details, get a better handle on the matter, and take to the airwaves. I'd demonstrate more master.... Own it. Learn it. Eat and breathe this crisis."

That's what the American people want. Tomorrow night, we'll see if Obama starts to deliver.

By Jonathan Capehart  | March 23, 2009; 7:07 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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The middle class has been enduring this top-driven, undeclared class war for the last 25 years. Now that primal greed, deregulation and political over-reach have crashed our economy, we have an opportunity to reset the financial structures in ways that are less socially toxic and blatantly avaricious. Creating a market model that raises wealth levels by sinking everybody's boat doesn't work, because that leaves no one to purchase the products and services that create wealth. A healthy middle-class drives the economy and creates wealth through its purchasing power.

Posted by: BennyFactor | March 23, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

The public is overwhelmed by the torrent of bad economic news and the succession of complex corrective measures and policies that very who really comprehend. The largesse of AIG bonuses in dire economic times is easy for the average person to grasp, and the jittery populace has therefore latched onto the sheer gall of AIG executives as its cause celebre.

President Obama can channel that anger into support for corporate compensation reform while at the same laying out his blueprint for economic recovery. By tying together the stimulus package and various programs to stabilize banks and assist people with under water mortgages in a cogent way, he will inspire confidence at the grass roots level.

Posted by: schankler | March 23, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

If I hear one more quip about pitchforks and I'm going to scream. We have every reason to be horrified by what has transpired, and belittling our fears serves no good whatsoever.

Our blind trust failed us, and now what we see is Wall Street men in the administration telling us we have to trust them. We can not. This isn't because we're ignorant populists prone to grab our pitchforks at the slightest problem. It is because the rug has been pulled from beneath us, and those doing the pulling are being given substantial rewards.

Sen. Dodd should not ever have changed his amendment to allow for those bonuses. His claim that some were concerned about lawsuits seems positively ridiculous under the current circumstances. His financial relationship with AIG, and his obviously evasive, if not dishonest, statements about his involvement in this bonus fiasco have left us no choice but to conclude that there is some serious funny business going on. We can't trust these people anymore and that is not our fault.

A presidential speech such as Capehart describes would certainly be a good thing. It isn't close to being enough. We need to believe that what is being done isn't merely sound policy, it must also be just.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | March 23, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

He should come out and perform a neat presidential rap on the situation, but something clean. Like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Posted by: SupremeWu | March 23, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

An irate friend in New York in an e-mail bubbling over in frustration wrote, "Too much is getting staffed out. Obama's the boss -- I'd bone up on more details, get a better handle on the matter, and take to the airwaves. I'd demonstrate more master.... Own it. Learn it. Eat and breathe this crisis."

That's what the American people want. - Johnathan Capeheart.


Oh, I see. Because YOUR friend sent you an email rant about Obama, in your mind, that must mean that the rest of Americans share that same opinion, which in turn enables you, Johnathan Capeheart, to announce to the world what Americans want. What sheer rubbish!

This idiotic formula of yours to divine the opinion of the public would be laughable if it wasn't such a pathetically common ploy used by so many lazy journalists. It's truly incredible that you are so full of yourself that you actually believe that just because YOU say that's what the public wants that it somehow makes it so.

Mr. Capeheart I hate to burst your bubble but you haven't got a clue about what the public wants and whenever you open your mouth or write your blog entries that fact becomes more and more apparent.

Posted by: pmorlan1 | March 23, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I agree with lostinthemiddle. However,I would also add that we need to hold accountable the people who caused this problem. The Justice dept. must take action.

Posted by: elarb | March 23, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

All of a sudden, everybody is an expert on the most serious financial crisis in 60 years! Yes, everyone is upset with the arrogance of AIG in paying 218 million dollars in bonuses to people who can't have performed any due diligence in executing their job responsibilities. How is it that the ContessaBrewers,Stevekrofts and JohnathanCapeharts get to even suggest what President Obama needs to do? These people, for the most part, are script readers, for crying out loud. They are not financial experts. They are overpaid town criers and people need to urge them to stop trying to expand their ratings with their inflated indignation and self aggrandizement.

Posted by: port1700 | March 23, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

When you start referring to Wall Street Bankers as the rape and pillage crowd and show me how things are different with this bailout and not just enabled, I'll think about putting down my "pitchfork," my "outrage," my righteous indignation. Until then, I think I'm going to need it.

Posted by: SarahBB | March 23, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree SOMEONE needs talking to but I don't think it is the public.
Should Obama not heed this I think he acts unwisely. The public knows what is wrong. It is the reign of special interests at all levels that has reduced government to the lap dog of everyone but us. How else could the bottom feeders on Wall Street get million and millions for destroying companies? The public knows this is wrong and what it wants is a promise and a program to stop these abuses and to punish past transgressors.
Don't support them in any way Mr. President stand against them all. After that we can then have a sit down to work on our-the publics's- attitude.
These folks need to lose their collective shirts and their inluence NOW.

Posted by: gary44 | March 23, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Good for you, BennyFactor: well stated and right on. I would add that the middle class (myself included) has been naively complicit in this. If you want to read a horrifying piece on the effects of the mortgage meltdown, take a look at last month's Harper's, which has an article written by someone who has been evicting and cleaning up foreclosed properties in Florida. Very, very ugly.

Posted by: abqcleve | March 23, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you. Obama should start talking straight to the American people.

Instead, he pretends that he didn't know about the bonus provisions in a bill he signed into law.

He continues to tell the American people they can have it all, we can fix the economic crisis, have universal health coverage with better quality care at lower cost, arrest global warming, maintain our national security, completely revamp our schools, ensure all kids have access to a college education, achieve energy independence, and cut the deficit, all at the same time.

He would have us ignore those "gloomy" projections coming out of his government's own nonpartisan GAO. All we have to do is "hope" and "believe" and it will all happen and it won't bankrupt the nation. And the best part is that only those "rich" guys will have to pay for it, that Americans earning less than $250,000/yr "won't have to pay one dime more it taxes" (Obama's words).

The sad fact is that Obama talked out of both sides of his mouth for two years of campaigning and continues to do so now. There is little reason to HOPE or BELIEVE that he will CHANGE now.

Posted by: plb1 | March 23, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Wapo, still bringing us Reagans trickle down, No thanks.

Posted by: frluke | March 23, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Based on Obama's lack of involvment in true policy and decision-making, and his perpetual face-time on the airwaves, leads me to believe that Obama doesn't want to BE the President - he just wants to play one on TV.

Posted by: boosterprez | March 23, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Capeheart:

The adress on race certainly had a long lasting impact -- NOT!

But Mr. Obama can only do so much with those tiny telepormpters!

Posted by: solson1 | March 23, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Friedman said the same thing the other day, and I (and I am sure many others) copied it to

Posted by: herzliebster | March 23, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Bend over one more time? No thanks.

Posted by: rusty3 | March 23, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

He doesn't need to talk to Wall Street, he needs to talk to us and tell us what we want to hear: he's going to shove a new set of reguations down Wall Street's collective throat. The politicans and their Wall Street handlers who killed defined benefit pensions in the private sector can't be allowed to rig the stock market anymore because everyone is now an investor.

Posted by: maxfli68 | March 23, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

why in the cornbread hell would i want to sit down and be lectured by a pinhead who sat in rev, wrights pew for twenty tears and never heard a thing?

Posted by: 12thgenamerican | March 23, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Another limp Republican commentary, with a heavy measure of lack of life experience. When will it end?

Posted by: axolotl | March 23, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

The American people finally start paying a little attention and get a little annoyed about what's going on, and all you Washington Post blatherers start talking about pitchforks. Pitchforks? Why are you so afraid of the American people? I'll tell you why. Because the American people have been screwed and are finally figuring it out, and Washington Post blatherers identify with the Beltway political class. Pitchforks indeed. Up yours.

Posted by: Aformerjournalist | March 23, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

"Obama must give some tough love to the financial sector by stating clearly that things will never be as they were."

The new administration has today given tough love to the financial sector by telling them that the government will work a deal to pay high prices for 1 trillion dollars of their worthless assets.

Please no more public speeches from President Obama. We need some intelligence not rhetoric.

The government will reward major banks with over 750 billion dollars for 1 trillion dollars of worthless assets that the Treasury now calls Legacy Asset. The banks will allow the government to pay high values for these worthless assets but that does not mean they will use the money to make loans.

Banks will make loans when it is in their interests to make loans. The plan is so lame that there is strong possibility that in six months after the government buys the worthless assets, the bankers respond to complaints about not making loans will be that they still hold 1 trillion dollars of legacy assets.

That is what I would do if I had the stomach to be a banker. Americans may not like it but it is smarter than the plan of the Secretary of the Treasury.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 23, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

The financial palyers need to have a cold shower.

Cold, cold, water of rational thought should saturate their overheated bodies.

Wake up, and receive the hot, hot water of the nation's disapprobations!

Posted by: JC505 | March 23, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

I agree with lostinthemidddle but I fear that after this has calmed, those who have wealth and power will fight like tigers to retain it and start this mess all over again. Am I the only one who thinks a crime has been committed for which another group would already be sitting in jail? Where are the charges? Where is the Justice Department?

Posted by: drzimmern | March 23, 2009 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Honestly...another "teachable" moment from our Anointed One? More empty rhetoric? More pontificating? More talk, talk, talk signifying nothing?

Will your worship of this clueless snake oil saleman ever end? It's not Obama's fault. Nothing is his fault. He inherited all his problems. Um, wait. It's the fault of his advisors. Um, wait, it's the fault of the Evil Limbaugh...

The One, Blessed Be He, soon will once again, pre-empt primetime TV shows to impart more teleprompter teaching moments. How lucky are we mere mortals to sit at the feet of such a great teacher!


Posted by: dana6 | March 24, 2009 12:26 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but President Obama has no qualifications to "teach" me or anyone about the economy. He is not an expert on economics or pretty much anything. Can we stop using this silly cliche "teachable moment"?

Posted by: woocane | March 24, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

He has talked to Americans as adults. He has an economic theory that informs his actions. He has said it won't be easy. It commentators like yourself that find it newsworthy that he hasn't solved our problems yet. The economy still stinks but it's not news to say this every day. So instead you say "what has he failed to do today". I'm not saying he is above criticism but he's only been in office 2 months. And what credentials do you bring this? In America everyone has an opinion but not every opinion is worth much.

Posted by: sactoman | March 24, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

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