It’s a nice refreshing tingly feeling, isn’t it, to watch a president who clearly not only understands complex economic concepts, but is even capable of boiling them down into simplified versions for the press? (Even if he’s occasionally visibly frustrated by the need to do so.) Bush always came across as just barely in command of the PowerPoint version of reality some adviser had walked him through, and painfully incapable of going into greater depth about anything.
The corporate media, of course (at least so far as I saw on NBC), was preoccupied with the fleeting meme that strategically speaking, Obama should have done this a week ago. That, however, utterly misses every point worth getting.
The points, significantly, all orbited around one central fact: the economy is in a self-reinforcing downward spiral. (I suspect that when this period is looked back on in years to come, it won’t be as a recession—that’ll fade into outdated usage just like depression did before it, and panic before that—and it’ll be remembered as “the meltdown.”) Experts and politicians may quibble over the details, therefore, but the federal government is quite simply the only entity capable of interceding to stop that spiral.
Corollary point: the longer we delay doing something, the more painful this period will be, and the more difficult and expensive it will be to extract ourselves from it.
Second corollary: calling legitimate, strategic spending programs “pork” in order to justify Congressional stonewalling is not good-faith deliberation. It’s partisan hackery.
Third corollary: while there is room for sincere bipartisan debate over how best to approach the problem, insisting defiantly that we’d be better off if the government does nothing and “lets the market work” is not a stance worth taking seriously. Nobody’s a fan of big deficits, but the ineluctable logic that Thatcherite conservatives used to justify economic privatization a generation ago is now coming back to bite them: quite simply, There Is No Alternative.
To these points, everything else was tangential. You don’t have to be a policy wonk to get them, but if you are one you don’t feel your intelligence has been insulted. Obama expressed them eloquently, cogently, and forcefully. He didn’t talk down to the audience, nor did he sugar-coat tough realities. And at the end one was left convinced that he sincerely believes his closing point: that civil, rational argument, pursued with perseverance, can and will win the day.
At the same time, one was equally convinced that he understands Washington gamesmanship enough to make sure that isn’t the only arrow in his quiver.