From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Is this war? Opinion leaders are beginning to come to this conclusion: America is at war dealing with this economic crisis. Warren Buffett was the first to say it earlier this week. Then yesterday, the New York Times' Tom Friedman declared, "Economically, this is the big one. This is August 1914. This is the morning after Pearl Harbor. This is 9/12." And the Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein added, "What we are facing is the economic equivalent of a war." All three men posed this question: If we're at war, then why aren't people acting like it? Why isn't the Obama administration, instead of scoring easy hits on Rush Limbaugh, doing everything it can to develop a clear and transparent plan to fix the banking crisis? Why does the Republican Party seem more interested in 2010 and 2012 than rolling up its sleeves to work with Democrats? Why are folks on Wall Street engaged in short-selling -- i.e., betting against the economy? And why is the press covering all of this like a political campaign or expecting that, on Day 52, Obama should have already been able to turn the economy around? David Ignatius also makes this point: "The culture of immobilism starts on Capitol Hill. These people are still working a four-day week, taking Fridays off so they can run home and tell constituents how diligent they are. They may talk about a crisis, but they don't act like it's real."
*** The White House's view: Asked yesterday whether he agrees with the "war" comparisons, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs sort of agreed, but with a caveat. "I don't think that should -- I don't think it cuts down on the -- I mean, some have intimated that because of that there shouldn't be dissent. I think the President doesn't subscribe to that. The President believes that good ideas are not the province of just one political party … [But] I think the challenges that we face, there's no doubt, are as big as any we've seen and our economy is challenged unlike it's been since World War II."
*** Walk the line: It was fairly easy to toss around some form of the word "hypocrisy" yesterday -- from the lawmakers who opposed the omnibus but still asked for earmarks, to even the president who seemed to want to have it both ways on getting tougher on earmarks but still signing the bill. Here's one reason why Obama decided to sign the $410 billion omnibus: He's walking a line with Congress. He doesn't want to publicly embrace the legislative branch, because while more popular than last year, it's still unpopular. But he also doesn't want to publicly alienate Congress, either. So he's picking his battles, and the spending bill was a battle he chose not to pick. He still has plenty of political capital to withstand criticism from true believers, who wish he would come into Washington like a new sheriff ordering change at a moment's notice. But he still needs Congress' help on several matters, including getting the Finance Committee to speed up its ridiculously slow confirmation process to get key Treasury staff filled. There will come a time (that's politically more convenient) when Obama will pick a fight with Congress. But yesterday wasn't that time. The key for Obama, though, is to make sure the public and the media don't get overly cynical by what was clearly a pragmatic decision.
*** The controversial case of Chas Freeman: Two days after he withdrew his appointment to become the Obama administration's National Intelligence Council, Charles W. Freeman continues to be a subject of attention and controversy. Today, his withdrawal is the focus of front-page pieces by the New York Times ("Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post") and the Washington Post ("Intelligence Pick Blames 'Israel Lobby' for Withdrawal"). David Broder chimes in, calling Freeman's exit "an ignominious end to one of the most distinguished international careers in American government." And so does the Washington Post editorial page, which calls him a "poor choice" for the job. While the Washington Post editorial page denies that pro-Israel groups campaigned for Freeman to withdraw, the episode reminds us of this lesson: Criticizing Israel -- legitimately or not -- is the ultimate third rail of American politics, even in a new administration promising change.
*** The controversial case of Michael Steele: There are two ways to look at Michael Steele's comments on abortion in GQ. Some on the right might believe he gaffed when he called abortion an "individual choice." If Steele wants to be the chairman of a party that a majority believe is a pro-life party than using the word "choice" could be grounds for dismissal by some. On the other hand, there are others who will argue that Steele might be helping the party get past the debate a tad. But his comments on abortion weren't the only eyebrow-raising parts of the interview. There's his language ("Aw, sh--" at the top of the interview when the reporter mentions she thought hip hop would be playing; he calls it "friggin' awesome" that "in 2009 two black men would sit on top of the political world of this country"). He said he was "bothered" by not being able to meet with Obama, whom he reached out to "brother to brother," yet added that people still don't know who Obama is and wasn't bothered by questions of whether he was a Muslim. He called McCain's pick of Palin a "ballsy move" that the media was "threatened" by. He said blacks would "riot" if Starbucks closed). And what Steele, the former seminarian, prays for -- "I ask God, 'Hey, let me show just a little bit of love, so I absolutely don't go out and kick this person's ass.'" The interview might serve to create more room for Steele critics inside the GOP to, well, push him aside -- either physically from his position, or like some Dems did with Howard Dean (to be the excuse to start up rival or alternative party building organizations).
*** The Inside Man: Margaret Carlson gets to the issue when it comes to Treasury Secretary Geithner: "Here's Geithner's problem: He's an Inside Man. Inside Man has the brain of Einstein and the presence of a flea. Inside Man can't catch a break in our telegenic age." If given time and the economy begins to turn around, Geithner's style could end up being an asset in the long term. But right now, for a jittery Wall Street, it's a liability. Geithner came from a world where it was better to keep a wall around him (at the Fed). Yet this job is as much about public P.R. with Wall Street or with Corporate America, as it is about doing the work behind the scenes. Perhaps with that in mind, Geithner ramps up his public activities today. In his fourth in a series of hearings on Obama's budget, the Treasury secretary testifies today before the Senate Budget Committee before attending the Business Roundtable's quarterly meeting, where he will discuss the administration's plan to stabilize the financial industry. Yet this story probably doesn't help Geithner much: "U.S. President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner received failing grades for their efforts to revive the economy from participants in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey." By the way, why hasn't the president physically gone to Wall Street? If this is an economic war, wouldn't it be prudent to sit down and publicly calm the folks on the frontlines?
*** Sanford and sons: Returning to our lead thought this morning, here's perhaps another question: If we are facing an economic war, then why are some governors refusing stimulus money? On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (whose state has a 10.4% unemployment rate) said he wants to use $700 million in federal stimulus money to pay down the state's debt. This comes as the Washington Post runs a front-page story about South Carolina's economic woes. The headline: "More Need, Less Help." The subhead: "As South Carolina's job losses mount, agencies and charities are stymied by budget cuts and politics." What do stories like this one do for Gov. Mark Sanford's legacy as he prepares to run for president in 2012? It could help him with the GOP base but hurt him if he ever becomes the nominee for a general.
Countdown to NY-20 special: 19 days
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Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 82 days
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Countdown to Election Day 2009: 236 days
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