Last updated on 2011.08.10
Yesterday, I rode MC a bit for not offering any specific policy responses to the S&P downgrade. Today, I dish the same to President Barack Obama.
I was on the road yesterday, switching between Uncle Owen, KILI Radio, and old tapes. When Gary Ellenbolt came on to say President Obama would be speaking to the nation about the debt downgrade and the helicopter crash in Afghanistan, I thought, "Ah! It's Michael Douglas time!" The market is plunging, commentators' knees are knocking audibly, GOP saboteurs and sowers of Norquist anarchy are licking their chops... it's time for action! A game-changer! Knock their socks off, Barack!
No such luck. The ever cool President Obama assured the markets everything is fine. He promises we don't need "any radical steps." Stay calm, trust Warren Buffet, and be more like good soldiers.
To his credit, the President did talk more policy specifics than MC. He reiterated his calls for extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance. He called for more infrastructure spending to create jobs. (See all those orange cones and concrete grinders on I-29, MC? Government really can create jobs.) And the President did originally offer the four-trillion-dollar deal that S&P said on July 28 would have averted this whole credit downgrade.
But the President did not address the fundamental concern that motivated S&P's downgrade. The credit raters know the President has all sorts of ideas. But they see Congressional gridlock stopping him from turning those ideas into debt-reducing, economy-boosting action. The President didn't tell us how he's going to overcome that gridlock and make stuff happen.
Instead of the usual patriotic scold—we are one nation, perseverance, will to should burdens, yadda yadda—it's time for some executive action. Here's what I was hoping the President would announce:
- Instead of throwing more men and materiel into an endless conflict, we are pulling out of Afghanistan completely. By December 31, not one American soldier or helicopter will remain in Afghnistan. Pouring continued billions into military occupation of Afghanistan weakens our military and our economy. Ending the occupation will bring greater national security and budget stability.
- By emergency executive order, I am reactivating the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration. By December 31, the Executive Branch will hire six million currently unemployed Americans to build roads, bridges, fiber-optic connections, parks, and public buildings. This work will immediately stimulate the economy and build public resources that will provide a foundation for continued long-term economic growth.
- We are selling Alaska to Canada for $1 trillion, which we will apply immediately toward paying down the national debt.
There's a time and place for the bully pulpit. But S&P is saying the bully pulpit isn't enough. Be bold, Mr. President! Use that crisis. Change the game. Make things happen.
Update 2011.08.10 21:01 CDT: Robert Reich agrees that the President's "pep talk" and policies are far too timid to tackle the economy's grave troubles.