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Amid Jittery Markets, Obama Looks to Strike a Steady Pose

Amid Jittery Markets, Obama Looks to Strike a Steady Pose

By Alexis Simendinger - August 8, 2011

President Obama took some extra time Monday to draft public remarks intended to calm roiling financial markets, respond to Standard & Poor’s downgrade of America’s credit rating, and to salute 30 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan over the weekend.

Standing in the State Dining Room with artist George Healy’s famous portrait of Abraham Lincoln hanging above him, the president spoke for 11 minutes. He offered no new remedies for either the ailing economy or the war in Afghanistan, but he tried to dish out huge helpings of even-tempered optimism.

“Markets will rise and fall, but this is the United States of America. No matter what some agency may say, we’ve always been and always will be a triple-A country,” the president said. “What sets us apart is that we’ve always not just had the capacity, but also the will to act -- the determination to shape our future; the willingness in our democracy to work out our differences in a sensible way and to move forward, not just for this generation but for the next generation.”

Reporters had ample time to study the Lincoln portrait, the carpet, and two gargantuan TelePrompTers because Obama was late -- nearly an hour late. There was some last-minute redrafting among the speechwriters, according to the rumor that swept through the room. Moments before the president appeared, the words “corporations” and “wealthiest Americans” could be seen vanishing from the final version of his remarks as they electronically appeared on the two monitors.

Small alterations, perhaps, but indications that Obama did not want to pick a new fight with either wealthy Americans or Big Business over taxes, spending and deficit reduction, at least not on a day when the Dow suffered its largest one-day plunge since December 2008, gold soared above $1,700 an ounce, and S&P continued its withering assessment of anything related to U.S. debt by downgrading mortgage-backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, owned by the taxpayers as a result of the financial meltdown.

Obama flicked away the S&P downgrade of Aug. 5, chalking it up to the rating agency’s objections to partisan infighting that dragged Washington for months through a debt-ceiling debate that did not, in the end, sufficiently control the nation’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product -- at least not in the first wave of legislative compromise.

With cheery determination, the president said that “our problems are eminently solvable,” and he encouraged Congress to return to Washington in September to hammer out the next phase of deficit reduction in a way that reduces debt, improves the fiscal picture and eventually feeds economic growth. “Making these reforms doesn’t require any radical steps,” he said. “What it does require is common sense and compromise.”

The president, casting himself again as the patient and grown-up outsider, painted Congress as the heartbeat of Washington’s problems, with Republicans setting the beat. “It’s a lack of political will in Washington,” he said. “It’s the insistence on drawing lines in the sand, a refusal to put what’s best for the country ahead of self-interest or party or ideology. And that’s what we need to change.”

Seasick financial markets and rating agency downgrades just might pressure lawmakers to return after Labor Day with a new outlook, Obama suggested. “My hope is that Friday’s news will give us a renewed sense of urgency,” he said of S&P’s unprecedented decision.

He promised to “present” his own deficit-cutting ideas -- the White House clarified that the president is largely thinking about the deficit reduction options already chewed through -- “over the coming weeks.”

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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