By Dan Froomkin
1:57 PM ET, 02/ 9/2009
President Obama's appearance at a town-hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., earlier today indicates that he has honed his argument for an economic stimulus package, boiling it down to a choice between doing something or doing nothing.
"Let me be clear. I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect," Obama said. "I mean, it's coming out of Washington. It's going through Congress." The audience laughed. "But it is the right size, it is the right scope, broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform this economy for the 21st century....
"I can't tell you with 100 percent certainty that every single item in this plan will work exactly as we hoped. But what I can tell you is, I can say with complete confidence, that endless delay or paralysis in Washington in the face of this crisis will only bring deepening disaster. I can tell you that doing nothing is not an option."
And at the same time, Obama's main message today wasn't something he said, it was where he was: "When we say that we've lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began, nearly 600,000 in the past month alone, when we say that this area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in the United States of America, with an unemployment rate of over 15 percent when it was 4.7 percent just last year, when we talk about layoffs in companies like Monaco Coach and Keystone RV and Pilgrim International, companies that have sustained this community for years, we're not just talking numbers. We're talking about Ed," Obama said of the unemployed father of seven who introduced him. "We're talking about the people in the audience here today, people not just in Elkhart, but all across this country.
"We're talking about people who've lost their livelihood and don't know what will take its place. We're talking about parents who've lost their health care and lie awake at night praying their kids don't get sick. We're talking about families who've lost the home that was the corner, their foundation for their American dream, young people who put that college acceptance letter back in the envelope because they just can't afford it.
"That's what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis. Those are the stories I heard when I came to Elkhart six months ago, and those are the stories that I carried with me to the White House.
"I have not forgotten them. And I promised you back then that, if elected, I'd do everything I could to help this community recover, and that's why I came back today, because I intend to keep my promise."
Obama's aides said the trip wasn't so much about selling his immediate audience on the stimulus as it was about turning Washington's attention to what's going on in places like Elkhart.
Indeed, there were more signs this morning and over the weekend that, even if he hasn't entirely won over Washington quite yet, the public and economists basically think he's on the right track.
Frank Newport writes for Gallup: "The American public gives President Barack Obama a strong 67% approval rating for the way in which he is handling the government's efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill, while the Democrats and, in particular, the Republicans in Congress receive much lower approval ratings of 48% and 31%, respectively.
"These findings, based on Gallup Poll interviews conducted Feb. 6-7, underscore the degree to which Obama appears to be maintaining the upper hand over his opponents from a public opinion perspective as he and congressional leaders wrangle over the precise form and substance of a new economic stimulus plan."
Steven Mufson and Lori Montgomery write in The Washington Post: "While economists remain divided on the role of government generally, an overwhelming number from both parties are saying that a government stimulus package -- even a flawed one -- is urgently needed to help prevent a steeper slide in the economy.
"Many economists say the precise size and shape of the package developing in Congress matter less than the timing, and that any delay is damaging.
"'Most of the things in the package, the big dollar amounts, are things that are pretty quick stimulus and need to be done,' said Alice Rivlin, who was former president Bill Clinton's budget director and who criticized aspects of the proposed stimulus in congressional testimony two weeks ago. 'Is it a perfect package? Of course not. But we're past that. Let's just do it.'"