Monday, February 16, 2009

A Realist's Optimism

There is something refreshing about Barack Obama's candor. First, because one did not hear it from his two immediate predecessors; and, second, because they give some insight into how the man might play the very difficult hand he has been dealt.

When Tom Daschle, Obama's choice for Secretary of Health, was forced to resign because he had neglected to pay his taxes -- and the various perks he had received since leaving public office became public knowledge -- Obama used the vernacular to admit his mistake. "I screwed up," he said. And last week, while generating support for his economic stimulus plan -- in the face of an almost solid wall of Republican opposition -- he told an audience in Fort Myers, Florida that, if he couldn't fix the economy, "you'll have a new president."

Some have taken that candor to be weakness. In fact, the chattering classes have already started to write his political obituary. As Frank Rich pointed out on Sunday, Newsweek declared in the first week of February that Obama "had all but lost control of the agenda in Washington"; and Politico claimed that he was "losing the stimulus message war." However, as Rich also pointed out, the pundits wrote the same kind of things when he was vying with Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination; and they predicted that John McCain -- the bus driver on the "Straight Talk Express" -- would run him over.

For while Obama has made mistakes, he is a quick study -- and he is not hide bound by ideology. In fact, he sounds a lot like Franklin Roosevelt. "We will do what works," he has said. That "will require re-evaluation" and "if that doesn't work, we'll try something else." You can bet that Obama has learned something from the Republican threat to filibuster his stimulus package and Senator Gregg's decision to walk away from his nomination for Secretary of Commerce.

At the end of the week the president had his stimulus package. As Paul Krugman points out in today's New York Times, that package, while absolutely necessary, may not be enough; and his bank rescue package leaves out a lot of details. But Obama does not suffer from the self delusion that most Americans have been living with for a long time. "The bottom line," writes Krugman, is that, according to the Survey of Consumer Finances, "there has been basically no wealth creation at all since the turn of the millennium: the net worth of the average American household, adjusted for inflation, is lower that it was in 2001."

The problem is that "until very recently Americans believed they were getting richer, because they received statements saying that their houses and stock portfolios were appreciating in value faster than their debts were increasing." The whole economy was built on the Bernie Madoff model. It was a Ponzi scheme.

Obama -- perhaps because of who he is and where he has been -- is no fool. As he told a group of reporters aboard Air Force One, enroute to Chicago at the end of last week, "You know, I'm an eternal optimist. That doesn't mean I'm a sap." Those who confidently boast that they have cut the young, green politician down to size should engage in their own re-evaluation.


Melissa Rhodes said...

We trust professionals: doctors, teachers, even lawyers and politicians, to do what's best for us. I know that means we have to believe that they know what that is - but things change, which means professionals need to be able to think and re-think.

The best part about Obama is that he is smart, but he doesn't pretend to know it all. That is someone I can trust to make an informed decision.

I wish Harper would give me a reason to put the same kind of trust in him!

Owen Gray said...

The beginning of wisdom is admitting one's weaknesses.That includes confronting ones own ignorance. Perhaps some of Obama's wisdom rubbed off on Mr. Harper this week.

Gaianicity said...

I would never call Obama a green president. Notice what he was proposing in Ottawa and what his topics of interest were.

Carbon capture and storage (as Steve's own advisers have pointed out) if feasible at all will be applicable to only a small number of sites and will be horrendously expensive. In fact, it may not work. That money is diverted from proven renewable energy technology that could be quickly in place--technology that can actually do something to reduce our emissions. It is an indirect subsidy the coal-fired energy, the Tar Sands, and , ultimately, the nuclear industry.

Unanswered question: Who pays? Answer: Who ended up paying for nucler and assumed all future liability.

The CSS proposal will leave American coal-fired plants free to continue to operate while we wait for CSS to emerge (estimates range from 2015 to 2050). The planet simply won't wait.

U.S. coal-fired plants used to generate electricity spew up to 50 to 70 times the carbon dioxide emissions of Alberta's tar sands! Think about that.

Obama, like Harper, is another very conservative leader whose moves are politically astute but environmentally disastrous.

Note in the fine print that Obama and Harper also discussed nuclear energy in positive terms. Expect to see nuclear plants to help process Albert's Tar Sands!

No wonder Ed Stelmach is jumping for joy.

Owen Gray said...

When I used the word "green," I meant "young" or "unseasoned." However, I see where I ignored obvious connotations which the word carries. The error is mine.

It is true that, if anyone thinks technology will save us, he or she is deluded. Conservation, wind and solar power must be at the top of a new energy agenda.

However, I'm still struck by, what appears to me to be, Obama's lack of ideology. My hope is that, when push comes to shove -- like nationalizing some banks -- he will do what needs to be done.