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A More Visceral Appeal

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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 10, 2009; 1:42 PM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
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First off, you used to rightly chastise our previous president for only appearing before carefully screened friendly audiences. Do you know how those who came to Obama's meeting in Florida were chosen? First come, first served?
Secondly, going back to your criticism of the press conference (which I thought was great) as well as the past week or so when the Republican spin dominated the media, I think you need to take the long view. Remember when, after the Republican convention, McCain and Palin were on the attack and many were calling on Obama to strike back, were worried he was too weak, etc.? Well, that worked out, didn't it? Obama took the long view as he is here. Let the Republicans rant and rant about the bailout and then come back as Obama has the last few days and it will be clear to most Americans who is being bipartisan and who isn't.
The straight talk of the two town meetings as well as last night's thoughtful, not pugilistic, press conference are part of that. Whose side do you want to be on, those whining Republicans or this solid, smart President?

Posted by: hillforg | February 10, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

To Hillfrog: How were people chosen? Guess what: They WEREN'T. Unlike EVERY Bush event ever, neither the audience nor the questions were pre-screened. Check out a story in Monday's Miami Herald about people lining up days in advance so that they could have the opportunity (something no one not chosen ever had under Bush) to see the president. Bush never went anywhere where he wasn't surrounded by sychophants. Obama's first town hall: A place that didn't even vote for him. If you're going to criticize, at least get your facts straight.

Posted by: oregonduck86 | February 10, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

From Teagan Goddard's website: "White House aides note that during President Obama's trip to Elkhart, Indiana yesterday he faced an audience that had not been pre-screened and who had instead received their tickets on a first come, first served basis. The same will be true for his trip to Fort." And I agree that the press conference was what this country needed to see -- that there's a grown-up in charge, a very smart and steady grown-up. Thank heavens!

Posted by: esommers2 | February 10, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Not every institution, bank, bodega, fast food joint or whatever, caused it's own demise in this environment. Same as not every family on the skids got there by buying $900K houses with no money down and maxing out their credit cards. So maybe we should be worried less about who to punish and who has what and just work to get the economy going.

Posted by: ronjaboy | February 10, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"Fust", "boring" These are some of the adjectives I've seen today to describe last night's press conference. It is really annoying to realize that we Americans require everything to be entertaining. Who was in the room at the conference? Should the president have tried to be an entertainer for that crowd or the intelligent, thoughtful leader that he proved himself to be?

Posted by: mjcoulter70 | February 10, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I watched the show last night. I was very disappointed. This guy never had to answer the tough questions during his campaign and know he does the same thing as the President. He answered 15 questions, during most of which, he rambled on and on. It was a talk at and not a question/answer. If transpareny means we have to hear how he and his team are overmatched, I prefer he keep it to himself. A nice, honest man, but way over his head.

Posted by: mmourges | February 10, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I watched the show last night, and I was amazed. This was a brilliant approach to government, interacting directly with the people, not just phoning power-brokers inside the Beltway or showing up at carefully staged photo ops in front of Castro-style handpicked audiences. This is a sharp reality check for old-guard congressmen and senators who've forgotten they are supposed to be representatives of the people, that We the People as a whole have more influence than any lobbyist, interest group, or telephone tree. We got real, unrehearsed answers, not just memorized talking points. This is a new era.

Posted by: lartfromabove | February 10, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Oregonduck86: I think you need to reread hillforg's comment (and that's "hillforg", not "Hillfrog"). S/he's on your/our side.

Posted by: whenpigsfly | February 10, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Having seen only some of the broadcast due to interruptions last night I finally read the transcript.

I actually prefer reading the text because he spells out his thinking process and we can see how he's analyzing and comparing relevant facts. I didn't read the meaningless buzzwords and empty talking points. I didn't read him challenging and posturing, bluffing and blustering. Calling out the Republicans for obstructionism would have been a meaningless and incendiary comment.

I have no idea what mmourges is talking about. For about a decade I wrote speeches and worked with several of the best CEOs in Silicon Valley, before my own inventions enabled me to become an entrepreneur. Obama is extremely good and would compare with the best. No tough questions? You must mean the "When did you stop beating your wife?" questions. The guy is in office for 3 weeks and his decisions have not had time to see any results. In 6 months or so we can ask questions that compare what he said with what he did what got passed and eventually the results we can measure.

From my experience doing road shows for tech IPOs and offerings to Wall Street investors, the reaction of the stock market is the last measure we should use to judge Obama's performance. I saw some real dogs go to the sky, and some excellent companies get slammed just because a few analysts saw short term trading opportunities.

C'mon, recall when layoffs boosted the stock market, did you think that was a good indicator? I'd use small business credit availability, business filings for new companies, patent filings, venture capital A round fundings as leading indicators of economic recovery. Jobs, sadly, are going to take a while.

One comment I read elsewhere today dealt with Biden's 30% chance of failure (snipped from his longer comment). The Marines they call this "the 70% Solution" and it's a popular business concept, too. The idea is to get there fastest with a solution for 70% of the problem and your likelihood of success is far higher than a perfect solution delivered later.

Posted by: boscobobb | February 10, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

I wish we could get all of the days froomkin posts and comments on one page.

Posted by: waawaazaire | February 10, 2009 9:33 PM | Report abuse

George Bush went only to Republican strong holds, and then talked only to very safe crowds, and that very rarely.

Barack goes only to Republican strongholds, talks to whomever shows up (more likely Republican than Democrat), and takes his questions as he gets them.

AND a Republican Governor introduces him at one of them.

Upon the face of it what we got IS REAL CHANGE.

And even thinking on his feet and composing as he goes, Barack seems mostly to use complete, grammatically correct sentences, with words of more than one syllable, all of which are enunciated.

Real change.

Give events a chance to catch up with his words, and when he is seen to be accomplishing something, say, "Change we CAN believe in. Amen!!!"

Posted by: ceflynline | February 10, 2009 11:02 PM | Report abuse

waawaazaire said:

I wish we could get all of the days froomkin posts and comments on one page.

Yes, those were the good old days... 'Tis a pity progress had to catch up with us eventually...

Posted by: dj333 | February 10, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Hi Dan. Good work as usual.
I don't don't think this format is best for your stuff. If I'm not won over in two weeks I'll lodge a formal complaint.

Posted by: Boko999 | February 11, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

If 'fusty' means being thoughtful and able to speak in complete sentences, then I guess you're right about the press conference. I, for one, am relieved to have a president who is smarter than I am, for once.

Posted by: Siouxsie | February 11, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

The specter of a poised, authoritative individual answering every question in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner, using words that are reliably part of a valid lexicon, pronouncing them intelligibly, sounding just the right tone of irritation and patience with an unruly group of whiners, was nearly euphoric for me. "Fusty"????? Where did THAT one come from, Dan?

Posted by: lindajar | February 11, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I didn't vote for this President because I believed he has all the answers...I don't think anyone does. I voted for him because I wanted my country back (you remember: rule of law, we're the good guys, only bad guys disappear people without charges and torture people who MIGHT know something, we put Nazis in jail, and hanged a few, for war crimes like those). I voted for Obama because I want my own party (the GOP) back from the Neocons, and that wasn't going to happen by electing another Republican, after the Bush-Cheney debacle. All that said, I see no reason to regret my vote in President Obama's performance or demeanor. Democrat or not, we could have done (and previously did) much worse.

I still doubt that this stimulus idea will really help, but I can see that President Obama is pretty much compelled by circumstance to support it. SOME action is so widely-regarded as necessary, that to do nothing WOULD invite total assignment of blame for a mess Obama had no hand in bringing about...and this "stimulus" idea is whats on the table, so they have to give it a shot.

I expect we will climb out of this economic downturn, whatever government does, unless it's effort to "stimulate" actually drags so much of the essential resources out of the economy that it can't stagger back to its feet on its own. If the government manages NOT to much things up beyond repair, once it does recover, the Obama Administration will be credited with "saving the economy" (much as FDR often is)... and we can debate about what really did the trick, for the next century or so.

But I think that the government DOESN'T really create simply has some power to command resources, and so can direct them to one endeavor or another...but each command directing resources TO some activity is also directing those resources AWAY from something else. It may be that things are so screwed up with our system that government intervention actually could increase employment rates in the short term, and may even be necessary for that purpose, but in the long term, markets DO allocate limited resources more efficiently than government.

Posted by: Observer44 | February 11, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

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