Bush Struggles to Be Heard in Economic Crisis

October 18, 2008
On the White House

WASHINGTON — With the economy in full roller coaster mode, President Bush has been working overtime to convince the nation that the situation is under control.

Hardly a day has passed this month without Mr. Bush appearing in the Rose Garden, or meeting with business leaders, or convening his cabinet, or giving a speech, as he did at the United States Chamber of Commerce on Friday, to talk about the “systematic and aggressive measures” his government has taken to put the fragile economy back on track.

The headlines on the White House Web site all sound the same: “President Bush visits Ada, Mich., Discusses Economy,” or “President Bush Meets with G7 Finance Ministers to Discuss World Economy” or simply, “President Bush Discusses Economy.” On Saturday, there will be another, when Mr. Bush has the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, to Camp David.

It is, in short, an intensive public relations effort, designed, White House officials say, to keep Mr. Bush front-and-center in explaining the intricacies of a complicated and fast-moving financial crisis. At times, the president sounds like an economics professor, with his talk of interest rates and capital and tightening of credit.

“Let me explain this approach piece by piece,” he said Friday.

But while Mr. Bush is doing plenty of talking, Americans do not appear to be taking much reassurance from his words.

The sheer volatility of the markets suggests that investors remain unconvinced when he says, as he did on Friday, that the government’s bank rescue plan is “big enough and bold enough to work.” On Wednesday, hours after Mr. Bush said he was ‘’confident in the long run this economy will come back,” the Dow Jones average plunged 700 points. Nine in 10 people now say the country is on the wrong track.

“One of the things we’re seeing here is the perils of a weakened presidency,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. “If the president were very strong and had a high approval rating, he would be the guy to reassure America right now. He’s unfortunately not in a position to do that, and we’re finding that we pay a price for that as a country.”

In the earliest days of the crisis, Mr. Bush seemed to cede his platform to his treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., only to face criticism that the president seemed disengaged. Once his administration settled on a plan — a $700 billion rescue package, which has since been eclipsed by a new plan for the government to take a stake in the nation’s banks — Mr. Bush delivered a prime-time televised address to sell Congress on the idea.

More than 52 million households tuned in, a respectable number by any standard. About the same number watched the first presidential debate this fall. Yet now that the White House has changed tactics, with Mr. Bush delivering remarks on the economy nearly every day, analysts and historians see Mr. Bush struggling to command the nation’s attention.

“I think he’s trying to make himself useful but I don’t think he’s having much of an impact,” said Alan Brinkley, a historian at Columbia University. “It would be strange in this kind of crisis if the president was invisible, but on the other hand, I don’t think his visibility is what’s shaping these events.”

Still, Mr. Bush gets credit in some quarters for trying. “I think he’s been wise to continue speaking out on a daily basis, because it shows him engaged, and in the early days of this financial crisis it was almost like he was an ethereal creature floating above it, as if Paulson and Bernanke were running the government,” said David Gergen, who has advised presidents including Ronald Reagan, Gerald R. Ford and Bill Clinton. “So I think he’s been wise to speak, but I don’t think many people have been listening.”

Americans have always looked to their presidents to provide comfort in times of crisis, especially through wars and economic turmoil. Franklin D. Roosevelt was brilliant at it. “He understood that the radio was an extraordinary vehicle for reaching millions of Americans, making them feel that the president was on their side,” the historian Robert Dallek said.

And Mr. Bush has used his presidential platform to great effect. One of the most lasting images of his administration will be that of the new president, standing amid the rubble of the ruined World Trade Center just days after Sept. 11, 2001, shouting spontaneously into a megaphone: “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

But now, with fewer than 100 days left in office, Mr. Bush’s megaphone, both figuratively and literally, has disappeared. The nation often seems to have moved past Mr. Bush; people frequently seem more interested in what the presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, have to say. And with a situation as volatile as the current economic crisis, scholars say, it might be difficult for any president to make the public feel better — let alone a lame duck president whose approval ratings were already as dismal as Mr. Bush’s.

“Presidents can rarely move public opinion,” said George C. Edwards III, a political scientist at Texas A & M University who wrote ‘On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit,’ published in 2003 by Yale University Press. Even Roosevelt faced obstacles; Mr. Edwards says a substantial number of Americans never listened to the fireside chats.

Aides to Mr. Bush say he understands the challenge. Just as he knew, during the darkest days of the war in Iraq, that the mood of Americans would not improve until they saw fewer fatalities and less violence, he knows that the nation will not be convinced his economic rescue package will be successful until people see the stock markets stabilize and credit markets loosen up.

“Look at the language he uses,” said Kevin Sullivan, Mr. Bush’s communications director. “It’s very realistic. He uses the word crisis; he talks about their anxiety, their concerns. There’s no rose-colored glasses, but by explaining how it’s going to work, that it’s not going to happen overnight, he hopes that people are going to be reassured.”

So the daily drumbeat continues. On Monday, Mr. Bush heads to Alexandria, La., to meet with business leaders and talk about — what else? — the economy.

via http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/18/us/politics/w18memo.html?hp

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One Response to “Bush Struggles to Be Heard in Economic Crisis”

  1. ERIC COUFAL Says:

    FINANCIAL CRISIS … POLITICAL CRISIS, AND VICE-VERSA

    The political crisis in the US began with the fraudulent election of GWB, a nefarious attack to democratic principles, as endorsed by the US Supreme Court, so no wonder there is both a political and a financial crisis now.

    If the US government (at least the incoming administration soon after taking office) doesn’t incarcerate a significant number of white collar criminals in the US and impounds their assets (both from the private and the public sectors; entrepreneurs and politicians alike, at the highest levels, whether members of the Illuminati clan or not) who are to blame for unfair business practices, political corruption, insider trading, favoritism on juicy war and other public contracts, self demolition of buildings and institutions, abusive secrecy about relevant information and technology that should be made public for the advancement of mankind (i.e. the Disclosure Project), including all sorts of tax / financial simulation and manipulation schemes, which combined blatant crimes have led the US to this collapse, and whose conduct is legally sanctionable by law and in equity, so as to demonstrate that there are rooted solid principles in the US legal system, sufficiently strong and valuable to shelter those main street citizens who abide by decent standards of living, and to punish wrongdoers until they repair the damage, with punitive and decisive action, the conclusion is simple: NO MONETARY BAILOUT WILL EVER BE ENOUGH FOR THE US TO REGAIN CREDIBILITY, because it is conducted at the expense of innocents and for the shared benefit of criminals. That is abuse of power … pure and intolerable injustice. If the Judicial system remains a silent puppet, just as the two other branches of government have clearly become noisy ones, the free fall of this crisis will not end, because what is being done is simply immoral, no matter how it is labeled or justified.

    THE WORLD URGENTLY NEEDS A MORAL BAILOUT, and both the US Executive branch and the Legislature (composed of politicians mostly interested in their selfish careers, and not in the common good as public servants) don’t seem to have a clue of what that means or how to implement it, except with more of the same which wont solve the roots of the problem.

    It is the Judiciary (not composed of biased politicians but by persons of allegedly good moral character with standards of ethical behavior), through the Supreme Court, the branch of government that is constitutionally in charge of administering Justice, so IT IS ABOUT TIME FOR THE JUSTICES TO DO THEIR JOB and save us all from what is coming.

    Regardless of the merits, the US achieved international respect when President Nixon was impeached, which led to his removal from office after Watergate. During the last few administrations all kinds of lies and deceit by Presidents in the US have not been sanctioned and have not only been tolerated but continue to be even applauded, with a much worse component of dishonesty than the Nixon era, including shameless ridicule, so the outcome is exactly what we have and where we stand right now: economic, political and moral decay.

    If a country has the government it deserves … there’s no more time to waste and the US as a country should regain worldwide credibility, because further delays in taking effective action with a principled bailout will unfortunately turn over governmental leadership to others abroad, just to save those few liable criminals in-house (politicians and bankers), and that will be at the expense of freedom and international peace, let alone the continued bankruptcy trends of the US economy and its political system, fundamentally due to more than obvious moral insolvency from the top down.

    Eric Coufal, Esq.
    Attorney and Counsellor at Law
    admitted to practice in Mexico,
    and in the United States by the
    New York and New Jersey Bars

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