By MAUREEN DOWD
Barack Obama’s grandmother told him to smile more. Bill Clinton tells the new president to strut more.
As the country takes a bullet train to bankruptcy, the last Democratic president urged the current one to “embody” that old American spunk. That spirit of — as they sing in “Oklahoma” — “We know we belong to the land and the land we belong to is grand! A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY!”
“It’s worth reminding the American people that for more than 230 years everyone who bet against America lost money,” Clinton told Chris Cuomo on “Good Morning America.” “I just want him to embody that and to share that.”
It’s rich. The Man from Hope whose Missus castigated Candidate Obama for raising “false hopes” is now criticizing President Obama for not peddling more gauzy hope.
Instead, he implies, the president’s warnings of calamity, designed to gin up support for borrowing and printing trillions to shore up the sagging economy, might actually be dragging down our already sagging self-esteem.
Says the ever-helpful Bill: “I just want the American people to know that he’s confident that we are going to get out of this and he feels good about the long run.”
It’s hard to muster moxie with stocks shriveling, Chris Dodd talking nationalization, and Paul Volcker making Chicken Little sound cheery — “I don’t remember any time, maybe even in the Great Depression,” he said, “when things went down quite so fast, quite so uniformly around the world.”
With this economy, as William Goldman famously said of Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.” The only thing to fear is ... everything.
We dutifully cut back on Starbucks macchiatos, designer water and even Girl Scout cookies, but we keep hurtling down.
While W. and Dick conjured an alternative reality about Iraq, our avaricious bankers created an alternative reality about our financial system. Now our busted trust is not so easily fixed.
In an Associated Press article headlined “Obama Plans Eclipsing New Deal Spending,” the Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker notes, “Not surprisingly, people are wary of some very expensive proposals with no guarantee of success or even a high probability of how well they’ll work.”
In The Times, Eric Dash reported that Wall Street is losing confidence in Washington’s vague and shifting plans, sending shares of bank companies plunging to new lows on Friday.
President Obama disdains sound bites, and he does not have Bill Clinton’s talent for reducing the abstruse to aperçus. We wanted someone smart to gather a bunch of smart people around him to get us out of this fix. But Mr. Obama’s egghead manner has failed to soothe a nation with the jits. Maybe he has been so intent on avoiding the stereotype of the Angry Black Man, as he wrote in his memoir, that it’s hard for him to connect with and articulate public anger about our diminishment.
Though he demonstrated in the campaign that he has a rare gift for inspiring the country with new belief in itself, Mr. Obama has not yet captured either the grit the moment requires or the fury it provokes. He has not explained in a compelling way why Americans who followed the rules need to sacrifice more to help those who flouted the rules.
That is why the CNBC reporter Rick Santelli struck a populist nerve with his screed about the unfairness of responsible homeowners picking up the tab for irresponsible homeowners — following the unfairness of taxpayers who are losing jobs, homes and savings propping up the exact same bankers and carmakers whose greed and myopia caused the economy to crash.
He spoke for those who want a pound of flesh. With the Wall Street bailout, Mr. Obama at least gave bankers a bit of the belt, and capped their pay. But homebuyers who wanted more than they could afford seem to be getting a free ride.
Yet Obama is oozing empathy compared with his attorney general, who last week called us “a nation of cowards” about race.
Eric Holder, who showed precious little bravery in standing up to Clinton on a pardon for the scoundrel Marc Rich, is wrong. We have just inaugurated a black president who installed a black attorney general.
We need leaders to help us through our crises, not provide us with crude evaluations of our character. And we don’t need sermons from liberal virtuecrats, anymore than from conservative virtuecrats.
In the middle of all the Heimlich maneuvers required now — for the economy, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, health care, the environment and education — we don’t need a Jackson/Sharpton-style lecture on race. Barack Obama’s election was supposed to get us past that.
Besides, the president has other issues that demand his passion.