"I love you, Obama!"
When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, someone always yelled that out to him in the middle of a speech. And he'd usually yell back,
"I love you, too!"
The night Obama reached 2118, the number of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination, he even elaborated a bit:
"I love you, too. Oh, I really do!"
Obama was praised back then for his oratorical style. For his charisma. He could motivate people, especially young people. He could inspire them, like no politician had since JFK, whose daughter endorsed him.
Two years later, Obama's often referred to as "professorial", as "cold", as "arrogant", as someone who doesn't relate well with people. And that old nickname from his law school days is back: No Drama Obama.
There was plenty of drama in 2008. My God, people use to faint at his rallies. He was Elvis. Now he's John Tesh. Some feared in 2008 that a candidate with so much charisma might become a dictator. Given the shellacking (Obama's own words) his party just took in the mid-term elections, he's about as effective a dictator as a 94-year old substitute teacher trying to break up a reform school knife fight.
This isn't the change I wanted to believe in.
Maybe Obama is like Jimmy Carter by way of cartoonist Garry Trudeau. In a series of 1970s Doonesbury strips, Carter appoints Duane Delacourt as Secretary of Symbolism, who advises the President to wear a cardigan, walk instead of take a limo on inauguration day, and answer questions on a call-in radio show. A few years later, a disillusioned Delacourt leaves the administration and joins up with Jerry Brown (yes, my younger readers, Brown was also in the news way back when.) As Delacourt explains to reporter Rick Redfern, Carter has lost interest in symbolism and seems intent on addressing the issues. Substitute symbolism with charisma and you have Obama. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for him addressing the issues, but not at the expense of his own personal magnetism. Would it kill him to multi-task? C'mon, the man carries a Blackberry!
Obama is said to admire Lincoln, but he should move up some 70 years to FDR. I thinking of the Fireside Chats. I learned about those chats in school, but until recently never actually heard one. I grew up thinking they were just meant to comfort or soothe people during the Great Depression. I figured FDR said something like, "Don't you worry about the big, bad depression, Uncle Frank will take good care of it. Now just pull that newspaper up over you on that park bench and have a good night sleep." However, a couple of years ago I actually got a chance to hear one of those chats. Roosevelt didn't just comfort, he didn't just soothe, he explained, he educated.
In 1933, banks were failing right and left. This scared a good portion of the population, and they responded by withdrawing their money. This in turn caused banks to not only fail left and right but also up and down and in and out. To deal with the crises, Roosevelt declared a Bank Holiday, closing the savings institutions for a couple of days. He then want on the radio to explain to those who hadn't already had their radios repossessed why he did this. It's a lengthy speech, or chat. I just want to focus on one paragraph:
First of all let me state the simple fact that when you deposit money in a bank the bank does not put the money into a safe deposit vault. It invests your money in many different forms of credit-bonds, commercial paper, mortgages and many other kinds of loans. In other words, the bank puts your money to work to keep the wheels of industry and of agriculture turning around. A comparatively small part of the money you put into the bank is kept in currency -- an amount which in normal times is wholly sufficient to cover the cash needs of the average citizen. In other words the total amount of all the currency in the country is only a small fraction of the total deposits in all of the banks.
Roosevelt then goes on to explain that if everybody withdraws their money at once, which is exactly what was happening, even the healthiest banks would go under. The people listening accepted the new President's reasoning. They cut him some much needed slack, legislation was passed shoring up the system, and the banks soon reopened. FDR's stock soared.
Back to Obama. No, I'm not suggesting he declare a bank holiday. TARP, I guess, solved that problem. I'm thinking of the stimulus. Many economists warned him that the first one just wasn't big enough, and now they're saying we need another. Whether the new Republican majority in the House will let him have another is doubtful. But he still has the old Democratic majority for next couple of weeks. Can't they pass something?
Here's Obama's problem. The stimulus is based on the theories of the late John Maynard Keynes. He believed the government could lift an economy out of a depression or recession by injecting cash, often referred to as priming the pump, usually in the form of public projects. Where does the government get this money, since tax receipts are low during a downturn? By running a deficit. Unfortunately, for advocates of such an approach, spending money you don't have to solve a problem is counter-intuitive to most people, definitely not something you want to try at home.
This is why Obama needs to give a Fireside, or, if you want to update it a little, a Space Heater Chat. Explain the theory. Tell the folks that if you spend money to build a bridge, it's not just bridge builders themselves that profit, that with money in their pockets, they'll go out and buy things in stores, and the people who work in the stores will have more money, as will the people who work in the factories and warehouses that supplies the stores with goods. The economy will rebound, tax receipts will go up, and the deficit will take care of itself.
Would such a chat work? Couldn't hurt. And we have TV now. Obama could shine those pearly whites as he comforted, soothed, explained, and educated.
Maybe the President's confidence has just been shaken a bit. Perhaps he just needs some positive reinforcement.
Here's what I want all of you Obama supporters to do, even those who may be having second thoughts. At the count of the three, I want you all to join together, and, as loud as you can, give him a giant word of encouragement.
WE LOVE YOU, OBAMA!!!
Let's hope it's not unrequited.