When Obama should be more like Bush
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.
| November 9, 2010; 2:05 PM ET
Categories: Stromberg | Tags: Stephen Stromberg
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