Let Obama be Obama

It's too early for Democrats to panic and demand the president-elect do more on the economy. Plus: Go away, little Jeb.

Published December 5, 2008 2:42PM (EST)

Yesterday I sent this AP story to our news team, about how Barney Frank and some other Democrats think Barack Obama should be doing more to intervene on the economy. I'd just come back from an MSNBC panel responding to Jonathan Weisman from the Wall Street Journal, who'd written a piece largely based on anonymous sourcing from folks around Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, likewise saying Obama was being too passive on the economic bailout plan.

A bit later the AP story, and Barney Frank's complaints, wound up the screaming lead item on the Huffington Post. But I think it's too early to scream. Obama has held more press conferences in the last two weeks than George W. Bush holds in a typical year. I also agree with Obama that there's only one president at a time (though, as Frank notes, we really don't have one right now, which is why he thinks the president-elect should step in). I think the carping is unfair, especially from folks around Paulson, who helped create this mess. The Weisman story read like a bit of a hit piece; he told David Gregory that Paulson's folks said they were getting "blank stares" from the Obama team when talking about what to do with the next installment of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. I've never seen a blank stare from anyone who works for Obama; they're some of the smartest people around. Someone is trying to set him and his administration up to share blame in this mess, and that's ludicrous.

Still, I suspect Obama is going to have to say and do more about the economic mess in the weeks to come. Specifically, he may have to spend political capital pushing a solution to the Big Three's woes, whether the answer is a closely supervised government investment plan, or a structured Chapter 11 bankruptcy (as Robert Reich called for today, also on David Gregory's "1600"). Clearly, it makes no sense to plan for a big stimulus package, and set out to create 2 million jobs, as Obama has promised, while letting hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear if domestic automakers fail. That would be a disaster no stimulus could counterbalance. Harry Reid says he doesn't have the votes for a Big Three bailout; maybe that will change with today's terrible job news, showing the U.S. lost 533,000 jobs in November, the biggest drop in 35 years.

Frank also speculated that Obama's caution stemmed from his desire for bipartisan or post-partisan solutions, which he said were giving him "post-partisan depression." I share that worry. I am the world's biggest Kumbaya-singing conciliator, and I'd love Obama to prove me and Barney Frank wrong, but I don't know that there's going to be a whole lot of Republicans singing Kumbaya when President Obama takes over in January. I actually hope I'm wrong; I think our problems are too big for Obama to solve them while facing partisan warfare from the GOP. But I think he's going to have to show his toughness and willingness to take sides, on behalf of working- and middle-class folks, sooner rather than later. Jeb Bush, allegedly the smart Bush, is trying to drum up support for a 2010 Senate race in Florida by telling NewsMax that Republicans should form a "shadow government" to oppose Obama's plans. If a Democrat said something like that on the eve of a new GOP administration, he or she would be smeared as a traitor. And if any Republican had a chance to set up a "shadow government," it wouldn't be someone named Bush. Go away, little Jeb.

On the other hand, I remember many on the left, myself included, insisting during the presidential race that Obama had to get tougher, attack more, and he never really did -- and he beat John McCain solidly. I now trust his political instincts on these issues (not necessarily his policy instincts; we haven't seen enough) more than my own. I also trust his calm, deliberative approach to problem solving, and I don't know why Democrats are among those setting him up for potential failure by demanding that he act before he's had time to develop a plan. I think supporters should stop hand-wringing and hectoring and let Obama be Obama.

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Barack Obama U.s. Economy