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The Questions Obama Needs to Answer

Obama at the White House yesterday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Obama and his team are finally making a greater effort to answer the critiques -- large, small, legitimate and absurd -- that threaten to block or delay action that he says is imperative to avoid economic catastrophe. See, for instance, Obama's Washington Post op-ed today. Also see David Leonhardt's piece in the New York Times yesterday. Leonhardt insisted on -- and got -- substantive responses from Obama aides to two of the more serious criticisms.

But Obama still has some work to do. Part of his winning style during the campaign was that he didn't just announce his positions, he explained his thinking. As George Packer blogged for the New Yorker on Inauguration Day, "what he’s always been is a great explainer, who pays the rest of us the highest compliment — the appeal to reason."

Obama stepped up his rhetoric again yesterday. "[M]ake no mistake: A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession, a less robust recovery, and a more uncertain future," he said, expressing complete certainty that the plan "can save or create more than three million jobs, doing things that will strengthen our country for years to come."

But he needs to explain in greater depth why he's so sure he's right. Sure, many Americans have great confidence in him at this point. But the stimulus is too big a deal to take on faith.

How did Obama reach the conclusions that he did -- from the big picture to the little? Why is he so sure things are that dire? Why is he so sure this will help?

Why isn't the plan bigger? Why isn't it smaller? How did he conclude that this is the right balance between short-term job stimulus and long-term strategy? Why not separate the two? Why, given some criticisms from experts with no axe to grind, has he come to the conclusion that this package is good enough, rather than in need of major surgery?

Why is he letting Congress turn this into something typically Congressional -- i.e. messy -- rather than using his political clout to dictate the terms? Since he acknowledges that the plan can be improved, why doesn't he publicly and explicitly state how? What is his litmus test for individual projects that are part of the overall plan? (Does he have one?) It's too late for listening now: What suggestions that he's heard does he think are worth taking?

What does he say to Republicans who worry this is the return of a permanent big government?

Obama needs to have a long heart-to-heart with the American people, either in a television address or in a serious, prolonged sit-down interview. And that interview shouldn't be with a blow-dried anchor or a political obsessive, but with someone who knows a lot about the economy and will push him beyond what have now become familiar sound bites, into a more persuasive terrain where he explains his reasoning and describes how he has reached his conclusions.

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 5, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Obama Says Partisanship is Holding Up Progress
Next: Quick Takes


Simply explaining this in reasonable terms will help to discredit the furious partisanship now coming from both sides. Obama can take the center now, get his victory, and let the ones who want only to be angry and ineffectual hold their meaningless fights on the radio and the blogs.

Posted by: Attucks | February 5, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, what's up with Obama? It's been almost two and a half weeks now and he's neither converted the professional career corrupt politicians inside the Beltway nor has he cleaned up the toxic destabilization of our economy and government created by the same politicians, their esteemed Republican predecessors and Democratic enablers.

He gets one more week, then the Republicans stage a coup and take over the country again. Republicans know how to run a crime family.

Posted by: Patriot3 | February 5, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

That's funny Patriot3!

"[M]ake no mistake: A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession, a less robust recovery, and a more uncertain future,"-BHO

Isn't this what was told to us before TARP funds were given? Before Auto Bailout funds were given? Politics of Fear, Blackmail or whatever you want to call it has made us gunshy of such talk when all this looks like is a money grab and payoff, pure and simple.

Posted by: splitbill | February 5, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Dan, I hope you will address the Cheney interview on Politico yesterday. I was appalled. If an ex-VP truly believes that we are in for another devastating attack then he is obligated to make his case to the President directly and with details. I don't believe his claims and was shocked that he still thinks its okay to play politics with national security given how poorly things turned out in the Bush-Cheney Administration.

Posted by: Ali8 | February 5, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Irreversible recession if we don't pass this whole thing next week? What numskull would fall for this kind of gobbledygook talk? We could pass about $200-300 billion in true short term stimulus tomorrow and chop the long term stuff into half dozen or so individual Bills to be debated thoroughly on their own merits over the next 1-2 years. Reinvest in schools via and Education Reform Bill. Fund modernized electrical grid and renewable energy research in an a targeted Energy Modernization Bill...goes on and on. Please don't ram this all or nothing monster down our throats in one hastily assembled frenzy. Ah but sedate, methodical consideration would require leadership and maturity wouldn't it...something the President obviously lacks in the glaringly amateurish piece he wrote in the WaPo today.

Sadly, I fear the children are now driving the school bus.

Posted by: tom2 | February 5, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

The stimulous roll-out has been a disaster. By focusing on privately trying to convert Republican politicians rather than publicly trying to persuade the public, Obama has shifted the media focus to Republican criticism of the bill, rather than Democratic justification for the bill. Add in the failure to craft the bill more carefully--which would have been well worth waiting another two weeks--and the nomination of appointees with tax problems, and this is not my idea of politcal competence.

Posted by: rjoff | February 5, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

All the Republican criticism of the stimulus bill makes me sick! The Bush Administration got us into this mess and now the GOP thinks cutting taxes for corporations will heal our economy? Are they stupid or just ignorant?

Today a report was released that found our Treasury (under hank paulson) OVERPAID $80 BILLION for assets it purchased from Wall Street. OVERPAID BY $80 BILLION!

We pis* away money by the HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS through charity for Wall Street and corrupt military contractors -- and the minute our new President tries to spend some money to improve the life of U.S. citizens, there is an uproar from the Right.

Why is it so immoral to have some much-needed Government spending at a time of crisis? I, for one, am excited about the prospect of seeing money flow to states who are bankrupt and to programs that will immediately have a positive impact on our economy.

Cutting corporate taxes like the GOP wants to do is inane at best. Many of the largest corporations already shifted their HQ overseas to avoid paying taxes altogether -- now we want to lower taxes on those that remain? Does the GOP really think a lower tax rate will create jobs?

Isn't that what Bush said about the TARP -- it will stabilize banks and open the floodgates of lending?

Well... I don't see any evidence of that. Plus, much of that money ended up being used as bonuses and in acquiring other banks.

How did that help our economy?

Posted by: winoohno | February 5, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

The last time I heard someone badgering me to act now before tis too late was on a used car lot. Guess how that turned out.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | February 5, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

"Sadly, I fear the children are now driving the school bus."

The mind boggles.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | February 5, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't want you to take it easy on Obama, but some of your questions are ridiculous:

"Why is he so sure things are that dire?" He can read. Who says things aren't very dire?

"Why is he so sure this will help?" Basic economic theory. Doesn't spending increase GNP?

"Why is he letting Congress turn this into something typically Congressional?" You can't be serious.

I'm a big fan, so I'll end with your only question that improves the debate:

"Why not separate the short-term and long-term?" I think I would. However, I would not expect that decision to influence Collins and Nelson from trimming any less money from the combined bills.

Posted by: merickson3 | February 5, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Obama needs answer the questions Americans have asked him. Here are the most popular questions in December:

Big O also needs to explain why he's changed his answer to the #1 question: will he legalize and tax marijuana? Here's video of him saying he would decriminalize it, in 2004:

Posted by: EvanRavitz | February 5, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

I would like Obama to explain why there is no time for debate on the stimulus package?
This bill has suddenly become all about quick passage,instead of the quality of the content.Didn't we just learn an $800
billion dollar lesson about swiftly passed
legislation with no cohesive plan for it.
Taxpayers are being asked to take on the largest national debt that any industrial nation on the planet has ever known,and I believe that our government owes us the courtesy to get it right. Even if it takes a few days longer then originaly planed.
The White House has suddenly turned on the doom and gloom rehtoric, insighting
fear and panic to push through a bill a that will probably not create the jobs and debt relief that americans want.
This bill should be 100% about growing our economy.There should be no special interest spending allowed,no pet projects,no election winning payoffs.
Why must we pay nearly $1 trillion dollars to provide jobs for 7% of the american workforce that is now unemployed?
2% of those workers are likly seasonal workers who would be unemployed through the winter months reguardless of the economy.
In reality 5 out of every 100 working americans has lossed a job. This is not a national crisis.
The real crisis is in the toxic assets
owned by the financial industry,and they are not addressed in this bill at all.
This should be a giant red flag to americans that this recovery bill was never about fixing the real problem within our economy. It's not about creating jobs or helping main street. It's about spending billions of our dollars because they can. That is what our government does.
Congress' motives became crystal clear when the republican senators offerd a compromise that offerd twice the jobs at half the cost and was shot down without any consideration at all.

Posted by: CanCollins | February 7, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

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