For the president, at last a bit of good news

WASHINGTON - JULY 28:   United States Presiden...

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Barack Obama can’t seem to catch a break.

He’s chastised from the left for not doing enough to stimulate job growth and chastised from the right for turning America into a socialist state.

Republicans, in lockstep, suddenly discover the word “dithering” and use it unceasingly to characterize Obama’s deliberate review of the Afghanistan war. Democrats can’t understand why the United States keeps fighting a war that many consider un-winnable.

Just about everyone (count me in) is calling on Obama to do more to make America healthy again. We just can’t agree on what more is and often forget what an unholy mess he inherited.

Now two interesting accounts in The New York Times suggest that the president may be doing some things right after all.

First comes a column by David Brooks, titled “What Geithner Got Right.” It’s notable because Republicans in the Congress this week have again begun calling for the treasury secretary’s scalp and because Brooks, a one-time editor at William Buckley’s Weekly Standard, holds the position of The Times moderate-conservative resident columnist. (This makes him a member of a dying breed called thinking Republicans, those who don’t spend a lot of time dithering about death panels and whether the president is actually a Marxist or a Maoist).

Here’s some of what Brooks wrote:

The criticism of (Timothy Geithner’s) plan to stabilize the financial system came from all directions. House Republicans called it radical. Many liberal economists thought the plan was the product of hapless, zombie thinking and argued that only full bank nationalization would end the crisis. The Wall Street Journal asked 49 economists to grade Geithner. They gave him an F.

Well, the evidence of the past eight months suggests that Geithner was mostly right and his critics were mostly wrong. The financial sector is in much better shape than it was then. TARP money is being repaid, and the debate now is what to do with the billions that were never needed. It now seems clear that nationalization would have been an unnecessary mistake — potentially expensive and dangerously disruptive. The course of events has vindicated the administration’s handling of its first big challenge.

Then today’s Times offers this assessment of the president’s jobs package: New Consensus Sees Stimulus Package as a Worthy Step.  (This obviously will do nothing to convince the 20 percent or so of Americans who believe The Times to be an extension of the old Soviet government organ Pravda, but you can’t convince all the people all the time.)

The Times wrote:

“In interviews, a broad range of economists said the White House and Congress were right to structure the package as a mix of tax cuts and spending, rather than just tax cuts as Republicans prefer or just spending as many Democrats do.

The president, of course, should not get too encouraged by these bits of praise as he sails toward a horizon choppy from headwinds. For one thing, much remains to be done. For another, Americans are far too busy to notice, anyway.

Who has time to talk about the economy when Sarah is still out there going rogue and speculation is running wild over what it will really mean when Oprah moves to cable (in two years)?

This, after all, is news worth following…Oh, yes. Just click the links if you want to read more about the boring economy.

But remember to stay tuned to the real stuff: Fisticuffs between Ernie and Bert at 5, followed by Oscar the Grouch finds Jesus and turns sunny.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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8 Responses to For the president, at last a bit of good news

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Jerry Lanson - News Prints – For the president, at last a bit of good news - True/Slant --

  2. andylevinson says:

    RE:The criticism of (Timothy Geithner’s) plan to stabilize the financial system came from all directions.

    I would call it the plan to rescue corrupt billionaires and banksters from wall street

    • Jerry Lanson says:

      You’re certainly not alone in that feeling, Andy. They key question — and one to which I don’t have the answer — is whether this country would have been in worse shape without it. That’s why I find these articles at least worth considering.

  3. Steve Weinberg says:

    Those who have reported close up on the federal government (as I did when serving as a Washington correspondent) know something that complete outsiders apparently fail to understand: the president of the United States is just one person, with limited authority in most realms. Except for the extraordinary power of declaring (and to a lesser extent halting) war, the president–whether Republican or Democrat, whether possessor of a low IQ or high IQ–is more a symbol than a policymaker. Policy suggester, yes. Unilateral policy implementer, no.

    I am not defending Obama specifically in this post. His words, actions and inactions have disappointed me already in certain policy realms. Still, so much of the criticism aimed at Obama is shot through with ignorance–the ignorance about what a president can really accomplish. Put another way, the high expectations among a significant percentage of the American populist are based on an unrealistic view of the federal system.

  4. Jerry Lanson says:

    No argument here Steve. I do believe, as I’ve written before, that the president could and should be using his position to mobilize the American people. Barack Obama has been better than George Bush in talking about sacrifice, about the deep divide in this country between those who are burdened my multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and a public largely oblivious to what’s going on there. But he’s still fallen short. He could also encourage the public to volunteer to help those who are hurting and set an example himself with his family. None of this takes an act of Congress. But there’s no question that he cannot, by force of will, get the Congress to pass anything. And his patience in the face of constant, cacophonous criticism may yet prove a virtue.

  5. markbolton says:

    Evidently, the mindset that says a president who is criticized from both left and right must be doing ok still holds the sway. Sad, isn’t it? Even Dubya got shit from the right on several things. I guess he did alright as well.

    What a president can do – which is not “declare war”, by the way – is LEAD. If you run for the office saying you’ll about real substantive change, maybe you should actually lead the country in that direction. (Do you think he would have won saying he’ll keep things pretty much the same?) You should not measure your success by the fact that both sides seem to be attacking you as you stand in the middle, and stand for little more than whatever can get passed on a given day. We’ve had that “success” for over 30 years now.

    “…..followed by Oscar the Grouch finds Jesus and turns sunny.” This would be the best evidence yet that religion has a negative impact on society. 🙂

    • Jerry Lanson says:

      Certainly a legitimate criticism, Mark. I think what Obama has done speaks, sadly, to the fundamental conservatism of our society. A Gallup Poll less than a month ago noted that 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative, just 20 percent as liberal. Barack Obama is a politician. So he’s watching those polls and, as you point out, sticking tightly to the middle. I agree that this does not jibe with his campaign theme of “change that you can believe in.” It’s more like “moderation with civility.” On the other hand, I would argue that this administration is substantially different from the last. It has moved toward restoring the rule of law, nationally and internationally. It has reached out to leaders all over the world to engage in dialogue. It has pushed for health care reform, as imperfect as it certainly is. So as frustrated as I am with the president’s caution, I think it’s also important to recognize and point out that he’s pummeled daily by a very disciplined and, in my view, really out there right wing that doesn’t let facts stand in the way of critique.

    • Jerry Lanson says:

      Oh yeah. Glad you liked Oscar.

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