By Dan Froomkin
1:42 PM ET, 02/10/2009
After a somewhat fusty White House press conference last night (read my analysis from earlier today), President Obama traveled to economically devastated southwest Florida today to make a more emotionally-laden pitch for his economic stimulus package.
As was the case in Elkhart, Ind., yesterday, his best argument may have been the urgency embodied by his supportive but clearly hurting audience -- from the man who'd lost all the equity in his house to the woman who told Obama that she and her family live in a small car.
"Doing nothing is not an option. You didn't send me to Washington to do nothing," Obama said to cheers at a town-hall meeting in Ft. Myers, which is experiencing the highest foreclosure rate in the country.
The president also delightedly announced the Senate's passage of its $838 billion stimulus bill. "That's good news," he said.
He was a bit more rueful when discussing this morning's announcement by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about the latest version of the bank bailout. "I know how frustrating it is for taxpayers when they're looking and they're saying, 'Let me get this straight: You've got a guy who's making $20 million a year who ran his bank into the ground, and now we've got to come in and clean up the mess?' Now, that's something that -- it just makes you mad," Obama said, the crowd murmuring in disapproval. "I understand that. But recognize that, whether we like it or not, credit is the lifeblood of our economy."
And he spoke in unusually personal terms about the trust Americans are investing in him.
"My hope is, is that the American people expect from me the same thing that I expect from myself, which is not to have every answer or to never make a mistake, but to feel like every day, me and my staff, that we are thinking about you and your lives, that we're talking to the most knowledgeable people on these problems, that we're making the best decisions for what's good for working families and middle-class folks and not just the powerful and the well-connected, that we are open to any idea, whether it comes from a Democrat or a Republican, or a vegetarian or a -- it doesn't matter -- and that we are going to be working as hard as we can to solve these problems.
"Now, you know, that is how I judge myself every single day. I ask myself, did I work as hard as I could? Did I seek out the best possible advice? Did I stay focused on the people who sent me to Washington? And if I -- if something's not working and I make a mistake, am I open minded enough to admit it and then move on and try something else that works?
"And that's -- that's -- that's the -- that's the best I can do. Now, look, I won't lie to you. If it turns out that a few years from now people don't feel like the economy's turned around, that we're still having problems, that folks are still unemployed, that our health care system's not more efficient, then, you know... I mean, I expect to be judged by results. And -- and there's no -- you know, I'm not going to make any excuses. If stuff hasn't worked and people don't feel like I've led the country in the right direction, then you'll have a new president."
Obama was introduced by a Republican -- Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist. "This is not about partisan politics. This is about rising above that, helping America, and reigniting our economy," Crist said.
Said Obama: "Governor Crist shares my conviction that creating jobs and turning this economy around is a mission that transcends party. And when the town is burning, you don't check party labels. Everybody needs to grab a hose, and that's what Charlie Crist is doing right here today."
Damien Cave recently wrote in the New York Times from one exurb outside Fort Myers: "In Lehigh Acres, homes are selling at 80 percent off their peak prices. Only two years after there were more jobs than people to work them, fast-food restaurants are laying people off or closing. Crime is up, school enrollment is down, and one in four residents received food stamps in December, nearly a fourfold increase since 2006."