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.
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