White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has the difficult task of defending the administration from a press corps
that's out for blood that wants to help. Today's press briefing included this interesting exchange:
Q Let me take one more crack at what Dan was getting at before. Talking about tomorrow on education, the administration's critics say that, you know, there's a house on fire; that the economy, you know, needs, for example, a functioning credit market and there's still not a fully functioning plan for getting toxic assets off the books. Why should the President be talking something -- about something that admittedly would be, you know, important for future generations to improve education in America, when there's a house on fire right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think part of the house that's on fire is dealing with the education problem. That's why that there was --
Q It's that broken?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think there's any doubt. I mean, look, we're not here -- we're not facing these economic challenges because of one thing; we're not going to get out of these by solving one thing. If I would have asked you six months ago, how did we get into this mess, you probably would have told me homes, right? You might have. But now maybe it's banks. Or maybe it's not enough spending in order to create stimulus to get people moving again. Maybe it's, you may have said, like the President did in September of 2007, that he was concerned that we didn't have a regulatory structure that was updated to meet our financial system.
Q Is it reading scores? Is it math scores?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- are there people in high school today that are going to have to take jobs in the next either few weeks, few months or few years that we better have a trained work force in order to meet the jobs of the future? I hope so. I think -- let's posit this: Let's get our banking system fixed. Let's get credit flowing again. But tell me which business is going to borrow money to expand, to add jobs, to do stem cell research, that can't find the people either coming out of college today or graduate school to do those jobs. Where are we going to go? Where do those jobs usually go? Somewhere overseas, right? Does that make sense for our long-term economic growth?
Q I guess I'm asking in the context of the muddled message that you talked about. Does it muddle the message?
MR. GIBBS: But I -- I thought I was less muddled and maybe more clear. I think that unless we take all of these steps -- your analogy about the house is on fire. Which room are you going to put out first? Or are you going to call the fire department and ask them to put all of it out? Or are you going to say, you know what, we love the living room; start over there. (Laughter.) And if you can, get quickly to the kitchen, and next to the den.
We could do that. And maybe by the time they get to the kitchen or the den the whole house is in ashes. Instead of asking the fire department to pick different rooms in which to extinguish, the President has decided to alert the fire department and everyone involved; that we have a responsibility to move this country forward, address the long-term problems and the short-term problems in order to create jobs for the future.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner still doesn't have his top three assistants in place. The markets are a mess. There still isn't a plan for TARP v.2 and there's a question whether or not the banks will be nationalized -- and Gibbs is defending the President spending his limited time on education because that's something that has gotten the economy into the sorry state it's in?
Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson identifies Obama's major problem:
The gap between Obama rhetoric and Obama reality transcends the budget, as do the consequences. In 2009, the stock market has declined 23.78 percent (through March 5), says Wilshire Associates. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page blames Obama's policies for all the fall. That's unfair; the economy's deterioration was a big cause. Still, Obama isn't blameless.
Confidence (too little) and uncertainty (too much) define this crisis. Obama's double talk reduces the first and raises the second. He says he's focused on reviving the economy, but he's also using the crisis to advance an ambitious long-term agenda. The two sometimes collide. The $787 billion “stimulus” is weaker than necessary, because almost $200 billion for extended projects (high-speed rail, computerized medical records) take effect after 2010. When Congress debates Obama's sweeping health care and energy proposals, industries, regions and governmental philosophies will clash. Will this improve confidence? Reduce uncertainty? A prudent president would have made a “tough choice” – concentrated on the economy; deferred his more contentious agenda.
I encourage you to read all of Samuelson's column, because he also points out that Obama's rhetoric doesn't match his actions -- especially when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
During the 2008 campaign, McCain got a lot of grief for suspending his campaign to help negotiate the original TARP plan. Then candidate Obama boasted that a president had to be able to do more than one thing at a time. That's certainly true, but he needs to be spending a heck of a lot more time on the economy. As he continues to do nothing and the market continues to tank, he won't be able to blame all of this on Bush forever.