So, folks, how is he doing?
With every day bringing more bad financial news, with job loss now an equal opportunity experience, with paying the mortgage each month a major hassle, we can at least be glad that Barack Obama is said to be ahead of any previous president-elect in putting together his team.
For sure, there are a lot of retreads from the Clinton years. And with the exception of keeping defense chief Robert Gates, there aren’t a lot of Republican crossovers. At least not yet. True bipartisanship remains a vision, not a fait accompli.
When Obama holds press conferences, the markets gyrate down and up and down and up and down.
We still don’t know what his exact plans for economic recovery or stimulus spending on infrastructure are. We have more questions than answers about where all the money is going to come from other than from government printing presses. We want to know how the flattening of the tires on our economic wheels will be re-inflated.
But there is steadiness and calm resolve when Obama speaks that are reassuring. He says he has the vision that will lead the country back to the new normalcy, whatever that will be. He pledges to hit the ground running on Jan 20, which seems a scary long way away. But at least there is no more talk of President Bush getting us into another war, say, with Iran.
Obama’s picks have been encouraging. For the most part, they have been men and women with experience but with the fresh perspective of having been away from Washington for a while. Their job is not to provide vision — Obama says that’s his prerogative — but to spar with each other, think up new ways to come at old problems and carry out the policies they formulate together.
It is telling that Republicans have not been critical, preferring to see what Obama does in office and perhaps willing to give the new team a chance because of desperation. Obama, for his part, has been firm in saying there is only one U.S. president at a time. He has done very little second-guessing of the Ben Bernanke-Henry Paulson attempts to restart the economic engine, even though so far they have not been successful.
The Bush administration’s play-for-time $800 billion plan to pump money from the Federal Reserve into all aspects of American life is an astonishing move born of true fear. It may help rev up the economy, but it is doubtful it will stop or even lessen the recession.
Obama says we have to believe that, having been through rough times before, this nation will recover. We just have to shudder at the huge trillion-dollar deficits and trust that foreigners will continue to invest their own declining assets in our country.
The president-elect, in an answer to a press-conference question about what he personally thinks about falling retail sales and whether he will go to the mall, said that he does plan to buy some Christmas presents for his family. But he pointedly refused to tell the nation to go shopping, as Bush so strangely did right after 9/11. For one thing, it would be callous to tell families uncertain about how they’ll afford life’s necessities to spend more. Americans are curtailing their spending, but they will spend what they feel they have to spend during the holidays.
We have no alternative but to trust Obama. We have to hope that he and his new team will be able to figure out how to get us out of the worst fiscal crisis in decades, the near-perfect storm of economic meltdown.
And, yes, there are signs that adult minds are on the job. They tell us belt-tightening will not soon disappear. The pain will last at least two more years. Obama says we must make more sacrifices, something Bush never admitted to us. That honesty, at least, is a start.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)