President Barack Obama today took center stage to provide a status report on measures his administration has taken to deal with the nation’s fragile economy.
The speech was filled with optimism, and encouragement, and was also a challenge to those who had criticized him for not doing enough.
“There is no doubt that times are still tough.,” said Obama. “By no means are we out of the woods just yet. But from where we stand, for the very first time, we are beginning to see glimmers of hope. And beyond that, way off in the distance, we can see a vision of an America’s future that is far different than our troubled economic past. It’s an America teeming with new industry and commerce; humming with new energy and discoveries that light the world once more.”
Although the White House billed the speech, delivered at Georgetown University, as “major,” Obama’s remarks didn’t offer any real new news. Indeed, it was likely more of an attempt to maintain and perhaps increase his political capital with an electorate that, despite these fiscally frightening times, continues to have strong confidence in him.
Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, says that the speech’s timing was critical because Obama’s focus lately has been foreign policy and he’s preparing to take another trip abroad. It’s important to let voters know he’s still involved in and cares about matters related to the economy.
“And, in terms of selling his agenda, Obama is clearly the administration’s best asset. He’s still hugely popular personally. The polls suggest that he’s more popular than his programs, so you want to take advantage of that. It’s politically very smart,” said Tanner.
As in previous speeches, Obama reminded the public that he inherited this economy because of irresponsible decisions made by others from “Wall Street to Washington to Main Street.” Responding to critics who’ve accused his administration of trying to do too much too quickly, he said, “since the problems we face are all working off each other to feed a vicious economic downturn, we’ve had no choice to attack all fronts of our economic crisis at once.”
Pointing to the recovery legislation, bank capitalization, and housing and auto manufacturers’ plans as pieces of a “recovery puzzle,” Obama said that his administration’s efforts have started to “generate signs of progress.”
He did, however, hasten to caution that despite any encouraging news, this year will continue to be difficult and painful as the nation experiences the loss of more jobs and homes.
“The market will continue to rise and fall. Credit is still not flowing nearly as easily as it should. The process for restructuring AIG and the auto companies will involve difficult and sometimes unpopular choices,” Obama said. “All of this means that there is much work to be done. And all of this means that you can continue to expect an unrelenting, unyielding, day-by-day effort from this administration to fight for economic recovery on all fronts.”
In a tone reminiscent of a preacher trying to inspire his flock, Obama used the Sermon on the Mount as a metaphor for how he envisions the nation’s economic future: one built on a foundation of rock, not sand. The five pillars of that foundation include new rules for Wall street that will reward drive and innovation; investments in education to create a more skilled and competitive workforce; investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries; new investments in healthcare; and new savings in the federal budget to bring down its debt.