Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 24, 2008

FILLING THE VACUUM.... Watching Obama's press conference today, I think I noticed three separate instances in which he mentioned having another press conference tomorrow. I had the same question Kevin did: "I'm not sure why Obama wants to have a whole separate rollout for this -- maybe he just wants more than one day's worth of headlines?"

Maybe. I don't think it's an accident that we're watching something akin to a full-court press. On Friday, the transition team intentionally leaked Tim Geithner's name at the next Treasury secretary. On Sunday, members of Obama's team fanned out over the morning shows to talk about a stimulus package. Today, there was the rollout of Obama's economic team. Tomorrow, Obama will host another event, apparently on the federal budget, hopefully alongside incoming OMB Chief Peter Orszag.

So, what's up? I'm guessing this is Obama's way of improving investor confidence and settling the markets before he can take actual policy steps to improve investor confidence and settle the markets. Axelrod acknowledged yesterday that they leaked Geithner's name for the express purpose of giving Wall Street a boost (it worked). Obama introduced his economic team today, and as I'm typing, the Dow is up over 500 points.

Obama keeps reminding us that the nation only has one president at a time, but he's also subtly reminding us that there's a light at the end of this tunnel. McClatchy reported late yesterday:

Whether by design or necessity, Obama appeared to be using the deepening economic crisis to step to the forefront and seize the stage in order to reassure a nervous nation two months before he takes office. [...]

Paul Light, a government professor at New York University's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, said the rapidly deteriorating economy is forcing Obama to become the nation's Booster-in-Chief before he becomes president.

"The markets are saying that George Bush is irrelevant to the economic future of the country, and they want to hear from Obama," Light said. "Obama doesn't have much choice but to reassure the markets as best he can. The ball is in his court whether he likes it or not."

Rachel Maddow had a very good segment on this on Friday's show, talking about the leadership vacuum that exists -- no one's listening to Bush, who went to Peru over the weekend, and Paulson's credibility is shot -- and Obama is simply stepping to fill the void.

And this, I suspect, is prompting separate roll-outs for all economic-related news.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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It's hard to tell if it we are now better or worse off that we haven't had a president for the last year or so, after the GOP decided it would be better to make Bush invisible. An active and vocal Bush, though, might have made things worse.

Posted by: AJB on November 24, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

The nation is not used to their leaders exhibiting adult behavior.

I noted that Obama said there was a long road ahead to recovery and that things would probably get worse before they got better.

Certainly not something you would hear from the current administration. "Don't worry the economy is sound!"

If Bush says the sun is shining, get your raincoat.

Posted by: Buford on November 24, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

The change from Bush to Obama is like the difference between watching a little league baseball game and then watching a World Series game.

Posted by: Stuart on November 24, 2008 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

"The markets are saying that George Bush is irrelevant to the economic future of the country."

And the greedy are milking the public monies cow for all she's worth B4 our present POTUS rides off into the sunset.

Look back at the year. The vast sums of dollars seemingly getting sucked up in a financial black-hole are actually shaping (in part) our economic future. The bail outs are definitely willy nilly and smell big time.

So Bush is relevant.

God Bush America!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on November 24, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think there is an opportunity for someone to coin a new phrase. It could be the opposite of "Lame Duck" and it would mean a president-elect who is strong enough or popular enough [or needed enough] to influence policies, markets and other social entities prior to assuming office.

Some examples might be:

Clark Kent President [prior to unveiling the Superman costume]
Calvary President
White Night President
King Arthur President
President in Shining Armor
Rescue President

Something like that.

Posted by: chrenson on November 24, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK


This is why Obama's holding daily press briefings.

40,000 people?


Posted by: Tom Nicholson on November 24, 2008 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

If you are correct, Steve, and you usually are, then this is a very smart move for Obama. Aside from the much needed market correction for the overinflated stock valuations, Obama's announcements have somewhat cushioned the roller-coaster ride the market has taken over the last few weeks.

Posted by: Michael W on November 24, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

If you haven't seen it already do yourself a favor and watch Rachel's segment with Robert Reich. Reich makes one telling point. We bailed out Wall Street in October not for the sake of making Hank Paulson's friends richer, but to free up money so they could lend to to main street. So far the banks are still not lending. The main street situation hasn't gotten any better and the treasury is out billions with nothing to show for it.

Somehow with the Bush gang I am not surprised, but until money becomes available again we can forget about any kind of recovery.

It is good to see that Obama is doing what he can before November 20. Announcing that he is working to sign a stimulus package on his first day is a great step. The problem is that he has to work with this Congress. The Republicans can still filibuster any legislation that comes their way and you can bet that they will try.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 24, 2008 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

As far as I'm concerned he can hold all the press conferences he wants - a more than welcome change. Contrast that with what we've had: a secretive bumbler who can barely speak English plus when have you ever heard him speak in-depth about any subject or issue? He doesn't and he can't.
That Obama is the complete opposite is reassurance in itself. Stepping in to fill the void is an understatement.

Posted by: PS on November 24, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

maybe I'm missing something.

banks have reserve requirements (some have suggested reducing them, which seems to be utterly foolish when banks are taking too many risks and consumers have no confidence). these are set as a floor - the minimum the bank can have in reserve.

i think those are critical and if anything shuold be raised, but why cant we also set a ceiling on reserves for banks that accept federal bailout funds? it doesn't make them less safe, especially if they meet heightened reserve requirements, but it keeps them from hording - it forces money out the door.

Posted by: zeitgeist on November 24, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

So what is the logic behind not repealing the Bush tax cuts and just waiting for them to expire as Obama promised during his campaign? I don't get it. Here we need enormous amounts of tax payer dollars to bail out the economy and repealing these tax breaks for the wealthy would result in billions of tax dollars so why continue them (besides the fact that Obama made it a central focus of his campaign to repeal them)??

Posted by: bjobotts on November 24, 2008 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

This is stupid. We didn't blame Obama earlier when the market went down, as some on the right did, and we shouldn't give him credit when the market goes up. The man is not a savior.

Posted by: Alex on November 24, 2008 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I'm looking for the silver lining, and one promising element I hear discussed by Jonathon Alter is that this transition is not nearly like the Roosevelt/ Hoover one, wherein the two were so at odds they barely spoke and tried actively to undermine one another. And that things were worse economically for everyone as a result.

Alter seems to indicate that thanks in large part to Obama's hard work at 'reaching across the isle' (uh, perhaps much to Lieberman's chagrin)-- Bush is absent but also not trying to actively saboage Obama's moves--especially re: the economic crisis.

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but that's what I'm gathering thus far from Alter's comments. And I really, really dig Alter!

Posted by: Jonathan Alter seems to indicate it could be worse on November 24, 2008 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Somehow I'm reminded of the great Equity Funding Corporation of America insurance scandal that broke in April of 1973. The "darling of Wall Street" company that created phony policies and sold them off to unwary reinsurers. Two-thirds of their business was bogus.

Only this time it's a massive fraud on a scale we've never seen before, where fake assets have been created in the trillions, and dozens of companies are involved. And they're all acting like victims. Nobody seems to have done anything wrong, except maybe those welfare cheats who took on mortgages they couldn't afford.

I think it's so big that no one is going to pay for their crimes. Like the crimes of Bush during his eight year reign of terror. We simply can't cope with the scope of these outrages, so we bury them in the deep recesses of our psyches.

And I'm afraid that not only will all the crooks get away with the money and the crimes, but that the American people are not going to learn that this free market capitalism, this greed driven system of ours, just doesn't work. You can see it happening already, the defense of this obscene system, the claim that the New Deal didn't work, that it's not really capitalism at fault, etc. We're being sucked into a he said/she said debate, instead of throwing the whole damn mess down the drain in one huge cathartic burst of Eureka! and a vow to stop this from happening ever again. We must never again permit such enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.

We're being scared to death by the very perpetrators, when we ought to be turning on them in outrage and demanding punishment and restitution for the havoc they have wreaked upon society.

The whole thing is disgusting.

Posted by: hark on November 24, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK


"Obama introduced his economic team today, and as I'm typing, the Dow is up over 500 points."

If the DOW is up for any reason, your reason is at best third. First, it's up because it's been selling off like a hemophiliac with a knife would in the neck. At some point, buyers just come in. Second, the Citigroup bailout is sending a very strong message that the U.S. government -- under Bush, still -- is going to throw money at the markets without regard to any overall plan. And that's what Wall St. wants to hear. Any beggar in a storm, etc.

Your rationale, that the markets are up because Obama named a team, is really, really weak. These are asshole stock brokers we're talking about, not visionaries. They don't care about two months from now, they care about the next five seconds. Or less.

Posted by: The Phantom on November 24, 2008 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Hark--at least we have Obama!

I suppose that could be that grim as you paint it, but I tend to think in a larger sense we do learn from our mistakes and pay for our crimes.

Yes, as Obama stated, it WILL get worse before it gets better, but it will get better, in my view.

As far as folks being adequately punished for their wrongdoings...well, I'm not sure how that will pan out.

As far as do we learn from our mistakes--no-- not always, but mostly, yes, I think we do in time.

I think it sometimes doesn't happen in the immediate way we may suppose or envision it, but I still believe lessons do trickle into the psyche over time.

I do see hope now for example where there was none a year ago. I do see our President-Elect wise and capable and picking some darn good folks to help him lead us through the muckity muck...

I sure wish he had 12 years, frankly. It'll likely take at least four to get us back on solid ground.

Posted by: I don't think it'll be that grim on November 24, 2008 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

To state the obvious:

George Bush left and things immediately got better.

Posted by: MarkH on November 24, 2008 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

During his 2000 interregnum before taking over from Clinton, Bush's economic efforts consisted of talking down the economy, in order to speed up the onslaught of some anticipated economic bad news, so that a bad economy would start during Clinton's term and could therefore be blamed on Clinton rather than on Bush. (If you remember that was approximately when we started to transition from "the economy is so good that the rich deserve a tax break" to "the economy is so bad that we must give a tax break to the rich".

Obama's behavior is a very pleasant change indeed.

Posted by: N.Wells on November 24, 2008 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Each Obama rollout is like a Blitzkrieg through the Ardennes; Bush is sitting all hunkered down inside his Maginot fortress, and the GOPers are already cut off from the Dunkirk beaches. Limbaugh and his ilksters are running around like headless chickens screaming "The One is coming! THE ONE IS COMING!!!"

It's nice to see the adults in charge again. By this time next year, we should start seeing the first grass-roots movements to outlaw the Republican Party....

Posted by: Steve W. on November 24, 2008 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Bush is hitting the sauce in Peru - he's out for the duration, I think.


Posted by: SteinL on November 24, 2008 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

I think Obama also understands the national media can't handle too much information at once. They'll only cover the top of the top headlines and if there are too many appointments or new policy plans they'll skip 95% of it and just talk about the Clintons instead. Slow and methodical seems to be Obama's plan for a lot of things. I like it.

Posted by: tom.a on November 24, 2008 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

All I can say is thank god (or deity of your choice) Can you imagine what would be happening with grampa McCoy and Caribou Barbie in charge. I would be scared out of my wits

Posted by: John R on November 24, 2008 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

Why not experiment with the new cycle before it really really counts?

What is interesting to me is that the media assumes that a leak (like the Hillary flood or the Treasury Sec leak) is real investigative news. Maybe the Obama Admin wishes to maintain this tension and drama for their own benefit.

When you are trying to win an election, leaks are of a different variety. Leaking that Clinton has been offered SoS might draw many reporters off of less interesting stories. If the media spends a week obsessing over Clinton, they waste a week of investigation on other things.

It seems to me that every play in football contains a fake or two, and so does basketball. I expect that Obama will use misdirection to his advantage.

Posted by: tomj on November 24, 2008 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

If this all works, in 10 years we will all be reading about how Obama shouldn't get credit for saving the economy in the first decade of the century because after all it started to improve in the last 2 months of the Bush administration.

Posted by: PAULO on November 24, 2008 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

chrenson wrote:
"Calvary President"

Did you mean "Cavalry President"? Or perhaps you were alluding to Obama's Messianic qualities.

Posted by: Grupetti on November 25, 2008 at 5:39 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should address why so much bailout money just given to the banks by Bush and Paulson is still sitting in the banks' capital acocunts.

I thought we had a credit crisis.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on November 25, 2008 at 5:56 AM | PERMALINK

"Flying fledgling" would preserve parallelism to "lame duck."

Posted by: in vino veritas on November 25, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK



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