We will not have a feel-good presidency in Barack Obama.
In a major economic speech before inauguration, he warned: I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don’t take dramatic action as soon as possible. If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four.
The nation is at such a critical juncture, we might never recover if we don’t act urgently and seriously to pass an unprecedented, FDR-esque spending and stimulus package, he said.
But Obama’s so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan still isn’t put together. And Obama neglected to tell us the cost — $800 billion is only an estimate, or when it might take effect, how he will get Republicans and Democrats to agree, how he will make certain we spend billions efficiently and without corruption, how he will keep responsible families in their homes and how he will replace millions of lost jobs.
True, who could not cheer when he lectured Wall Street and Washington that their irresponsible actions, borne of reckless greed and risk-taking, unscrupulous lending and borrowing, lack of judicious oversight and sheer ineptitude, have led us to crisis.
But Congress bolted into action when asked to save the nation with the Patriot Act, authorizing war in Iraq and, more recently, the $700 billion bailout. Questions that should have been asked and answered were avoided in the need for speed.
Obama calls for a middle class tax rebate. But last year, when the Bush administration pushed one through, people stuck their checks in the bank for an even rainier day.
Obama says we must fix our infrastructure, an absolute truth. But we know what happens when money is pushed too quickly into a pipeline that spews dollars into the hands of fly-by-night, low-bid contractors. Obama pledges no earmarks, no pet projects. Hey, were talking Congress here; pardon our skepticism.
Obama also wants to digitize medical records, invest in alternative forms of energy, modernize schools and extend broadband Internet service. Great.
The economy is said to need what is called velocity of money, whereby a dollar changes hands over and over again, instead of being stuck in a piggy bank. But how can someone who has lost a job go on a binge-buying spree?
Within weeks, our annual deficit shot up three times to $1.2 trillion dollars. Our national debt is $10.6 trillion. The gross domestic product — the market value of all goods and services in a year — is $14 trillion and all but stagnant. We’re told that in an economic meltdown, deficits and debt don’t matter; but isn’t that part of the problem?
Obama’s flowing rhetoric and lilting cadence are a great advantage for a president. But he has yet to talk directly to us on Main Street. If this is our equivalent of world war and all-out depression, how are we to help? Is our role to spend or save?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promises a stimulus package by Feb. 16. Awesome. But we don’t know what it will contain or it’s cost. If it doesn’t happen, will Obama, in just a few short weeks, be seen as weak, reduced to shaking his fist at Capitol Hill?
Obama said urgently: "For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.”
Let’s hope that was not a prophecy and that he’s right in also saying, "The very fact that this crisis is largely of our own making means that it is not beyond our ability to solve.”
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)