Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
On Monday night, at his first presidential press conference, Barack Obama repeatedly referred to his trip earlier in the day to Elkhart, Indiana, the RV-making capital of the country, where unemployment has more than tripled from 4.7 percent to 15.3 percent in the past year. It was as if--after weeks of being bogged down in Washington sausage-making--he was saying, "Hey, there is a real world out there." By leaving town, if only for a few hours, he had attempted to position himself as the voice of the hurting common American. The point: to highlight the problem in poignant details so that the solution he is pushing--the stimulus bill--receives a little more political lift. The bill had received a boost shortly before he appeared before the White House press corps, when the Senate voted to clear the way for its version to be approved on Tuesday. But the House and the Senate versions still have to be reconciled and the final version approved by both chambers. Which means that Obama still needs to exert political muscle.
At the press conference, Obama stuck to his message with discipline and eloquence. He contended over and over that the stimulus bill, while not perfect, needed to pass immediately. Otherwise, a worsening situation could worsen more quickly. Doing nothing, he noted, would "create a negative spiral." Think of Japan in the 1990s, he added. His basic argument was, don't get lost in the weeds of the stimulus bill, when there's a fire in the forest. It's an argument he presents with confidence and justification. He has a knack for conveying the gravity of the situation without appearing gloomy. At one point, he declared, "The party now is over." Has any president ever said those words?
Last week, I asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs if President Obama would be mobilizing his millions of supporters to apply pressure on Congress to pass the stimulus legislation. Gibbs did not give a direct answer. And it has seemed that Obama and his aides have not been eager to use their list of 13 million supporters to flex their political muscle.
This past weekend, Organizing for America, the Obama campaign's spin-off, held house meetings across the country regarding the stimulus package, and it sent a video of Obama to these sessions and to everyone on its mega-mailing list.
Here's the full video:
The presentation began with Obama saying, "Hi everybody." He then thanked the viewers for all the "hard work" they did during the campaign and for "staying involved in the task of remaking this nation." Referring to recent job loss numbers, he noted that "sometimes Washington is slow to get the news." He touted the stimulus bill moving through Congress and said, "If we fail to pass it promptly, our economy will fall oone trillion dollars short of what it is capable of producing this year." He maintained that the stimulus measure would lead to the upgrading of schools and laboratories, the modernization of the health care system, the development of a smart grid, and the rebuilding of roads and levees. He sold the bill well, noting that there will be plenty of transparency and accountability provisions in the legislation: "This is your democracy. And as I said throughout the campaign, change never begins from the top down. It begins from the bottom up. It begins with each and every one of you." But what did Obama want each and every one his video-viewers to do to bring about this change?
Not much, really. He said:
| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 4:49 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 4:49 PM EST
On Friday morning, I asked, "Will Obama mobilize his millions?" By that, I meant would he activate the 13 million or so Americans who had signed up with his campaign in order to pass the stimulus bill. Organizing for America, the spin-off of the Obama presidential campaign, is holding house parties on the weekend to discuss the recovery package. But Obama has yet truly to unleash his supporters. His push for the economic bill has not had much of a grassroots component.
On Friday afternoon, I was able to ask White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about this. First, I inquired if President Obama wanted the folks attending the weekend house meetings to pressure members of Congress to support the stimulus bill. (As of this writing, the bill, which had passed the House, was heading toward a vote in the Senate. After that, the two versions will have be reconciled and a final version approved by both chambers.) Gibbs replied with something of a platitudinous reply, noting that the president always encourages citizens to be involved in their government.
| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 12:43 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 12:43 PM EST
Would George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have sought economic advice from, say, James Galbraith, a well-known progressive economist (and Mother Jonescontributor)?
That's a rhetorical question.
But look at the composition of Barack Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which he unveiled on Friday morning. It's chaired by Paul Volcker, the former Fed chair, and includes, among others, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Penny Pritzker, a businesswoman and philanthropist who chaired Obama's campaign finance committee, Anna Burger, chair of Change to Win (a labor group), Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Martin Feldstein of Harvard. Feldstein is a prominent conservative economist. He was resident Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser and was a driving force behind George W. Bush's failed effort to partially privatize Social Security. (Imagine if that had gone through!) He also was a board member of AIG (whoops!). Talk about affirmative action.
| Thu Feb. 5, 2009 1:17 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 1:17 PM EST
President Barack Obama needs to get outside the Beltway.
Not necessarily by hopping on Air Force One (which he has yet to use), but by reaching out to the millions of Americans who are rooting for him in order to obtain their active support for his economic stimulus plan. In the first fortnight of his presidency, Obama has mainly played an inside game, as he has tried to win congressional approval of an economic recovery package. When the nearly $900 billion measure was being considered in the House, Obama largely deferred to House Democrats, who shoved many long-yearned-for spending initiatives into the bill. Thus, a 647-page creature was born, which included provisions easy for Republicans and conservatives to deride and oppose.