From NBC's Athena Jones
CHICAGO -- In response to criticism that he is departing from his promise to bring change to Washington because several members of his economic team were Beltway insiders, Barack Obama said today that his team would combine experience with fresh thinking and his own vision for change.
"Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost," he told reporters at his third press conference in as many days. "It comes from me. That's my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going, and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing."
He also called the government's latest attempt to help ease lending with $800 billion in new lending programs a "positive sign."
Obama made the comments on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday in what was his third press conference this week - and the fourth since being elected. With the economic crisis dominating the front pages, Obama has used each day this week to announce members of his economic team, a sign that managing the economy would be a top priority in his first days in office.
Today he tapped former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, an economic adviser during the campaign, to chair his President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Obama also announced that Austan Goolsbee, another campaign economic adviser, would serve as the board's staff director and chief economist as well as a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. He said Goolsbee was one of the advisers who had most shaped his thinking on economic matters.
Both men were on hand for the announcement and Goolsbee's wife and children were in the audience.
Obama said the board would be made up of distinguished individuals of diverse backgrounds outside of government who could provide him with a fresh perspective and help avoid the kind of "groupthink" that can plague decision makers in Washington. When one reporter noted that Volcker had a lot of experience in Washington, Obama replied that the former Fed chair had not been in Washington for a long time and said Goolsbee had never worked there, while stressing the importance of having the proper balance. Obama described his economic team as one with a "cross-section of opinion that in some ways reinforces conventional wisdom; in some ways breaks with orthodoxy in all sorts of ways."
"The last Democratic administration that we had was the Clinton administration," Obama added, "So it would be surprising if I selected a treasury secretary who had had no connection with the last Democratic administration. Because that would mean that the person had no experience in Washington whatsoever."
A student of history who has spoken frequently about the lessons he has learned from reading about past presidents like Abraham Lincoln, Obama pointed out that his economic recovery board was modeled on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to provide "rigorous analysis and vigorous oversight to our intelligence community by individuals outside of government, individuals who would be candid and unsparing in their assessment."
With Black Friday approaching, the president-elect stopped short of telling worried Americans to go out and shop during the holidays, instead saying simply that people should remember that "help is on the way".
"As they think about this Thanksgiving shopping weekend, and as they think about the Christmas season that is coming up, I hope that everybody understands that -- that we are going to be able to get through these difficult times, but we're just going to have to make some good choices," he said.
During the campaign, both Obama and his one-time rival Hillary Clinton criticized President Bush for calling on people to go out and shop after the September 11th attacks, rather than asking them to make sacrifices.