Barack Obama's latest economic speech did more than set forth his goals for a recovery plan to pull America out of the current recession. It was also a document designed to create a political climate that will enhance his effectiveness and keep him at the epicenter of the country's desire for change.
"He's been trying to find the midpoint between fear and optimism," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "This is what all presidents face when they take over in tough times." To those ends, Obama is attempting to blend rhetoric describing the dangers inherent in the current economic crisis while at the same time offering hope that he and his advisers, working with Congress, will find the answers.
His political objectives in the speech, and generally in the run-up to his inauguration, appear to be fourfold:
- Convey a positive sense to America and the world that help is on the way;
- Reassure the U.S. middle class that Obama will promote its interests;
- Lower expectations that the new administration will be able to improve the situation immediately by arguing that it will take a considerable amount of time, and
- Demonstrate that Obama is already working hard to seize the moment, even though he doesn't take office until January 20.
In his speech, Obama said Congress must take "dramatic action" to pass his economic package as soon as possible or the nation will suffer dire, long-term damage. "If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years," he said. "The unemployment rate could reach double digits." He added: "I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon a possible." He said the current crisis is due to "an era of profound irresponsibility" on the part of government, business, and individuals who overextended themselves.
Through a combination of tax cuts and government spending on infrastructure and other programs, Obama said, the plan would save or create more than 3 million jobs and improve healthcare, energy conservation, and education. Analysts estimate the cost of his plan at about $800 billion to $1 trillion.
"It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth," Obama said, "but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe."
He made his remarks at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.