For all the alarming missteps of the first few weeks of the Obama Administration – Daschle, Geithner, Lynn, Gregg come to mind – it's nonetheless bracing to hear our President speak, and it's been a long eight years since we could say that. In his press conference last night, Obama was in equal parts precise, critical and eloquent, reminding us that if anyone can break through the historic disconnect of Washington to find solutions here, he might just be the guy.
To wit: Obama admitted the stimulus plan "is not perfect...I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope." He gets one point for honesty. Still, he loses points for truly distressing elements in the proposed plan – cuts in education, Head Start, state funding, food stamps – that need to be addressed.
He made the current economic numbers imaginable with an analogy that was heart-stoppingly clear to some of us. The 598,000 jobs lost last month alone, he said, are roughly comparable to "losing every job in the state of Maine."
He showed compassion without condescension, noting that he was "trying to underscore...what the people in Elkhart already understand: that this is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill recession." He was blunt. He pointed out that "the problems are accelerating instead of getting better." And he wryly blasted Republican critics trying to rewrite history, those free market fans who, in the midst of the hurricane, want to let it roar and give it tax cuts: "There are several who've suggested that FDR was wrong to intervene back in the New Deal. They're fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago."
Obama cited the "rare moment where the citizens of our country...are watching and waiting for us to lead."
He's right. With the bank rescue plan now taking shape, it remains to be seen how much control will be left in the hands of a private sector that has, to put it mildly, not inspired confidence. A little nationalization would go a long way to restoring it.