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Some Americans Can’t Pretend

Robert Samuelson is one of the most influential economic columnists in America, and for good reason: he’s informed, intelligent, and measured. That’s why his column today is significant. In Samuelson’s words:

Obama is a great pretender. He repeatedly says he’s doing things that he isn’t, trusting his powerful rhetoric to obscure the difference. He has made “responsibility” a personal theme; the budget’s cover line is “A New Era of Responsibility.” He says the budget begins “making the tough choices necessary to restore fiscal discipline.” It doesn’t.

This column should be read in conjunction with this article on Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner where we learn

Of the 15 key Treasury Department positions that require Senate confirmation, only one has been filled… Geithner, who started work in late January, has no deputy secretary, no under secretaries for international affairs and no deputy under secretaries.

This is stunning, especially when you consider that we are facing one of the two most serious economic crises in our lifetime.

Since the beginning of the year, the stock market has lost almost 25 percent of its value; people’s life savings, built up over decades, are being wiped out in a matter of weeks. The economic predicament we are in certainly isn’t all Obama’s fault; it has a complicated genesis (related in considerable measure to flawed policies pursued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, policies which Obama himself supported). But it is reasonable for the citizenry to expect that he would have a plan to make things better, or at least stabilize the situation; and certainly that he wouldn’t take steps to make things worse. Unfortunately the verdict right now — early, but no longer all that early in the Obama presidency — is that his actions have accelerated rather than arrested our economic slide.

The lack of confidence we are witnessing in Wall Street is beginning to spread to the country more broadly (the distinction between Wall Street and Main Street, which was always exaggerated, is now slimmer than ever, given how many Americans have money in the stock market). These are precarious days for our country and the world, and right now our President looks to be over-matched by events. He needs to right the ship of state, and soon.


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