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When Obama should be more like Bush

By Stephen Stromberg

I never liked George W. Bush's swagger -- his undue surety, how his rhetoric simplifies then exaggerates complex issues that demand nuanced discussion. But his serene self-confidence is sometimes effective and, on certain issues, occasionally even appropriate. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is one of those issues. Here's what he said about TARP in the interview with Matt Lauer that aired Monday night:

BUSH: I'm paraphrasing at this point, "You better do somethin' big, 'cause if we don't, you're liable to oversee a depression." So the decision point here is, do you adhere to your philosophy and say, "Let 'em all fail." You know, they pay--

LAUER: Free market--

BUSH: For yeah, free market. Or do you take taxpayers' money and inject it into the system in hopes that you prevent a depression? And I chose the latter.

LAUER: Yeah, you write that, "You know, I abandoned the free market to save the free--"

BUSH: I did.

LAUER: "--market system."

BUSH: I did. And a lot of people and I also put in there my friends in Midland are gonna say, "What happened to Bush?"

LAUER: Yeah. Where was that conservative?

BUSH: Yeah, what happened? But when you're the President and somebody says, "Hey, if you don't do something strong, there may be a depression." It gets your attention... at least it got mine.

LAUER: You went with the TARP program.

BUSH: We did.

LAUER: A lot of people now call it the bank bailout. And they hate it.

BUSH: Yeah, they do hate it. I can understand that. Look, the idea of spending taxpayers' money to give to Wall Street and the banks to save them... a lot of people think they created the crisis in the first place and so I can understand the angst. But in my case, I wasn't worried about angst, personal angst or contradiction. I was worried about the economy goin' down. And I believe TARP saved the economy.

Yes. TARP wasn't perfect, but the right vote on the bill shouldn't have been a matter of dispute. As galling as Bush clearly thought the policy was, the government didn't have much choice. It could decide to allow more financial institutions to implode, shattering public confidence in the financial system on which all of us -- not just fat cat bankers -- depend. (Try to get a car loan when there are no willing lenders.) Or it could infuse the system with enough capital to see it through the worst of the financial crisis and hope that taxpayers get some of their money back. As it happens, taxpayers have gotten lots more back than many analysts expected. And nearly all of those who peddle ideologically-charged post-facto recriminations -- they took YOUR money and gave it to BANKERS! -- are either too cynical or too immature to acknowledge much of this. The case for TARP is simple and clear-cut, the sort of issue suited to Bush's rhetorical manner.

I think the story about President Obama's debilitating communication problem is overblown and often self-serving. During news conferences, I'm relieved he's the one behind the podium and not his predecessor. He speaks in a moderate tone and with appropriate attention to detail. But in defending TARP and even the stimulus over the last two years, Obama could have used shorter sentences, starker terms -- and some simplistic Bushian swagger.

By Stephen Stromberg  | November 9, 2010; 2:05 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Contrived. His party wants us oppressed at all costs.

Posted by: mullarkeymichael | November 9, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

There you have it. Bush- I dropped Ideology to do the right thing. Obama- I dropped the right thing for my Ideology.

Posted by: flyover22 | November 9, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

"oppressed at all costs"?

Seriously, the Republicans interfere in my life much less than the Democrats do. And no one beats the Democrats for being bossy and holier than thou about it.

Given the astonishingly poor performance of the government over my adult life, I'm not surprised that 20% of the population are raving libertarian Tea Party types. Why pay for something so dysfunctional?

Posted by: katorga | November 9, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

"Seriously, the Republicans interfere in my life much less than the Democrats do."

Seriously? A bunch of Republicans have picked your pocket big-time. TARP wasn't good enough: the Fed has decided to inflate your currency. It thinks of this, quaintly, as "qualitative easing," the Fed seems to have forgotten how much of the goods bought and sold in the country are made elsewhere these days.

Posted by: fzdybel | November 9, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

You all are confusing TARP with Stimulus. The TARP money was PAID IN FULL WITH INTERESTS, the Obama stimulus is: 1) not paid yet, 2) money to GM..not likely to be recovered in full 3) no proper accountability was set up so there were a few jobs in california which got salaries of over a million dollar a piece, i.e., $256 million created 250 jobs, Mr. obama admitted...there were no shovel ready proyects, but I must grant you the signs which cost thousands of dollars looked lovely. I still don't know what happened to the libido of the monkeys, or the prostitute study in China, but I'm sure spending our tax money in this science was worth it. Additionally I don't think that the unions have not been reinbursed for "get out the vote efforts". Yes, big difference between President Bush and the so called Obamamarama.
Yes, bu

Posted by: minuramsey | November 10, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

"...complex issues that demand nuanced discussion." What a crock. That is just liberal-speak for disagreeing with Bush's policies and style. I think we need less "nuanced discussion" in this country and more action. Obama may be the better orator, but he is like Bill Clinton, he speaks a lot and says nothing. At least Bush spoke his mind instead of spouting unending platitudes.

Most everyone, including Stromberg I suspect, considers FDR one of our greatest presidents. In 1933 you what his attitude was regarding lifting us out of the Depression? If you have an idea, try it. If it doesn't work try something else. The dire situation didn't allow for endless debate. That is exactly what we need today. The endless cycle of policy discussions, committees, commissions, punditry, talk shows, speeches, press conferences, and blogs has reduced us into talking about everything and doing little.

Posted by: billk1209 | November 10, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Obama failed miserably in explaining the need for a stimulus, a stimulus that economists,including Mark Zandi,McCain's camapign economic advisor, and the non partisan CBO state saved the nation from another Great Depression and created or saved three million jobs.What's even more outrageous is that according to a recent Pew poll,only 34% of Americans knew that it was Bush who signed the TARP legislation.66% of those polled thought that Obama created the bank bailouts! Shows how the tea partiers were misled and manipulated by the Republicans and Fox News.If the tea partiers were so angry at the bailouts,and rightly so,why didn't they direct that anger toward the Republican Party that has consistently and insistently pushed for the deregulation of their Wall St buddies?

Posted by: johnbird1 | November 10, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

TARP was generally paid in full with TARP money. Either way, we should have never issued TARP in the first place. All we have done is preserve the financial model that got us in trouble the first place.

Posted by: BradG | November 10, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

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