David Gergen | Bio
CNN Senior Political Analyst
Barack Obama last week set forth the most ambitious reform agenda of any president since Lyndon Johnson, and a large majority of Americans have rallied behind him. Yet, as the economy continues its downward plunge, the question arises: in trying to do so many big things at once, is he putting economic hopes at growing risk?
The arguments in favor of his current approach – what might be called a “big bang” – are powerful both substantively and politically. With health care costs exploding – they will average $8,160 per person this year and are estimated to reach $13,100 by 2018 – it is clear that reform of health care is a key to long-term economic strength. Similarly, the embrace of a low-carbon, green economy should be the source of many new jobs and will also protect the planet. In both cases, the earlier reforms come, the better.
Politically, the President is probably at the zenith of his power. He and his team clearly want to seize upon this crisis to reshape the overall landscape, just as FDR did over the years in the Great Depression. At the moment, Obama enjoys the support of some two thirds of the public, and by one survey, Americans by 61-26% say they trust him to do a better job with the economy than Republicans. He also commands large majorities in both chambers of Congress, and history says his party is likely to lose some seats in the 2010 election. And very importantly, massive, rapid change is what he promised voters in the campaign.
So, the argument comes from the White House, damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!
Yet… yet… yet: It isn’t popular to say right now but there is growing reason to question whether this is the wisest course in terms of our most urgent and pressing challenge: a collapsing world economy. News on the economic front has to be sobering to even the most optimistic among us. Last Friday, we learned that the economy contracted in the 4th quarter by over 6 percent. Over the weekend, Warren Buffett warned that the economy would be in a “shambles” through 2009 and possibly beyond. On Monday, the government issued its fourth bailout for AIG, European ministers rejected a general bailout for Eastern Europe, and the Dow sank below 7,000 – down some 25% since its run-up in January. This Friday economists expect the latest U.S. unemployment numbers to be dismal. Already, the administration’s optimistic economic forecasts for next year look way too rosy.
We are in the midst of a global crisis, one that demands an intense focus and daily leadership by the President of the United States. There is no doubt that President Obama is paying close attention: not only is he receiving a daily economic briefing – new at the White House – and in his first three weeks in office, he secured passage of a massive stimulus bill. Give him ample credit. But there is also no doubt that his ambition for reforms in other areas do not allow him to give the economy his full attention. This Thursday, for example, he will hold a health care “summit” at the White House, as he launches a year-long campaign to achieve what no other president has ever done: a complete overhaul of the health care system. He deserves credit for trying, but in the Clinton years, a similar such effort consumed enormous energy and time by the President and most of his domestic team. And this same White House wants to achieve an overhaul of energy as well this year – a project that is similarly massive and time-consuming. In my own experience at the White House stretching back to the early 1970s, a President and his team can be successful in addressing one big major crisis when they apply laser-like focus, but when juggling two, three or four at a time, they usually bungle one – and often more than that.
His supporters ask: given what President Obama has already done on economic reform, what more would you have him do? Well, for starters, the financial industry is suffering daily blows because there is still no clear-cut set of policies about how the government will rescue banks and to what degree it will take voting control of other banks beyond Citi. The White House needs to be fully engaged and pressing the Treasury and Federal Reserve plus other agencies to bring more clarity on an urgent basis. The President also needs to break up the log-jam on appointments to top economic posts: it is stunning that the Secretary Tim Geithner does not yet have a deputy secretary or any undersecretaries even named, much less on the job. Nor is there a major CEO or market leader in the administration to provide daily advice.
Clearly, the President also must ensure that other efforts are also underway and receive daily attention from the White House, starting with the housing industry and extending to an auto bailout, regulatory overhaul, and – very importantly – a coordinated world-wide approach to ensure that we don’t go over an economic cliff. The White House, too, must oversee the stimulus spending and see if more is needed. It would help as well if the President worked with Congress to get those 9,000 earmarks out of the massive spending bill that the Senate is now considering – earmarks that undercut the administration’s own promise of fiscal prudence. All these and many more economic issues need the attention that only a President can bring.
Does an intense presidential focus on the economy mean that health care reform and energy reform must be put aside? Not at all. They are too important to be sidetracked. But it does mean that the White House should consider putting them on a slower track, perhaps trying to bring health care reform to a final vote next year. The U.S. needs to have a climate change plan for international negotiating purposes late this year, but elements of new energy legislation might also be slowed until next year, too. It is worth further debate whether the President’s budget plan – which many in business saw as an assault on them – is now having a damaging effect upon the very stock market that his team wants to stabilize.
The economy is falling faster than anyone would like. Some economists have now upped the likelihood of a mild depression to one out of four; they also say that the economy is sinking so quickly that it may wipe out the benefits of the President’s stimulus package. In the midst of this economic crisis, the number one, urgent priority for the country is to stop the bleeding. Once the patient is stabilized, we can go on to perform other, vital surgery.
Guess which comment is "awaiting moderation"?
Thank you, CNN!
#1) March 3rd, 2009 5:05 pm ET
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
I don’t know what news channel you are watching in Brazil, but GITMO is NOT closed. There is still much debate about “global warming”, weather permitting.
And, no, I do not want my taxes raised to help the “welfare queens”,OK?
March 4th, 2009 5:13 pm ET
#2) March 4th, 2009 5:13 pm ET
I think Obama is doing a great job so far, so I can’t wait 45 more months to vote for him again. Can we repeal the 22nd Amendment?
I'm not sure why the ups and sudden downs in opinion on President Obama's performance.
Was he really expected to solve the crisis is a matter of days?
If the previous governement (or governments around the world) couldn't prevent it from occuring, then how can one man "fix" it short term? This was a long time building and a long time in the fixing.
I think the expectation "quick fix" doesn't match reality. Recovery global going to take time, and the more nitpickers, pick, then longer it is going to take for everyone.
Sounds like opponents, who can talk up their ideas as much as possible without having to prove them, are just trying to score points.
Barack Obama last week set forth the most ambitious reform agenda of any president since Lyndon Johnson,
Since when is spending money on political friends "reform"?
David Gergen, whom I usually like, is beginning to resemble a cat stuck in a tree, that knows that if it does not get down, it will get blown into a patch of thorny bushes just a few feet from the tree. The cat can then neither try to get down, instead imagining that by using its weight as anchor, it can slow down the shaking of the tree in the wind.
Mr. Gergen knows that health care is a prime economic issue, one that is driving our auto makers and other entire industries out of business, which is in turn worsening the foreclosure crisis, which is one of the fundamental causes of the recession, and yet holds back, saying, "Oh, its too much".
I was a Republican until a few years ago. I voted for Obama, because he acted like a fellow who could handle multiple crises at a time. Now he is moving to do so. Call it radical, call it overreaction, call it whatever, everyone with functioning neurons (which sadly does not include the leadership of my former party), knows that this immense crisis will take some major radical changes to fix (if we can fix it at all). Merely battening down the hatches and hoping for a turn around is not a strategy, its false hope. Something President Obama was readily confused for suggesting during the campaign.
So, yes, Mr. President, damn these torpedoes, full steam ahead. Our only hope is that we can get to port before the listing ship of America capsizes completely.
To add to this metaphor laden post, this country is currently the ER, our economy is the trauma patient. And no justified medical procedure is too radical. Waiting will kill the patient, and I hope for all our sakes, Mr. Gergen, that you are not the doctor on duty.
Amen, Mr. Gergen ! I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis/recommendations but must admit that in delaying some of the major items on Mr. Obama's agenda I'd be hoping that they would never come to pass. I fear that only Obama himself could recommend such a course, due to the bitter partisanship evident in Washington today: Most Democrats would not suggest delay as they realize this may be their only chance to get at the the health care issue. Republicans would not seem credible to suggest delaying as they would be labelled "obstructionist".
Sure would be nice if there was a political figure in this country, with an impeccable reputation / moral authority, that could suggest this type of thing and have both sides listen (i.e. a George Washington type). Unfortunately, I'm not sure this type of person exists anymore.
I usually greatly respect what you have to say, but I’m finding myself a bit baffled regarding your comments here, and in fact think you are flat out wrong. Your refrain of slowing down seems to be being echoed by others moderates in the media (David Brooks), yet as Steve Benen of “The Washington Monthly” points out, the main argument among you is moderation simply for moderation’s sake, which is nonsense.
President Obama understands that all of our problems (healthcare, the economy…) are connected and the only true way to fix one is to go about tackling them all. Yes, it’s bold and perhaps risky, but it might just be the only thing that’s going to get us out of this mess. As you have pointed out, the American people voted for the president’s agenda. Shockingly, it’s looking like we might just get what we were promised. That’s a good thing. Obama might be moving too fast for your tastes, but a lot of us are very pleased.
I think Obama is doing a great job so far, so I can't wait 45 more months to vote for him again. Can we repeal the 22nd Amendment?
Obama does not have time to focus on the economy because he cannot get out of campaign mode! Why are the taxpayers footing the bill for and his chief of staff spending daily time on attacking private citizens? Why because the idea is to stifle any and all opposition. And people thought Bush was terrible for intercepting telephone calls between the US and other countries. We have no idea what is going on with this administration and wiretaps on people they want to attack.
As for the Sunday news shows everything is a setup. Rahm has calls daily with those show hosts and questions are being set up in advance as well as selecting the guests. Nothing is being left to chance. The people are the suckers.
Mr.Gergen- you have some sage advice for our new President-I hope he listens !
Obama recognizes that everyone wants the economy fixed. Not everyone cares that health care be fixed, or education, particularly those with access to good care. I think he’s trying to leverage the economy to at least make progress on the others too. If he does it in sequence, he may not get what he wants perhaps. He got the stimulus package by the skin of his teeth. Again, he was leveraging. If he hadn’t, he could have had a bipartisan stimulus package but nothing on health care and education. The economy will fix itself. It always does the only question is how painful will it be.
"Reporters" are constantly talking about what the "polls" indicate. There is never a substantive reference to what "polls" or under what conditions they are taken. Most people know that "statistics" can be made to indicate whatever is wanted. The American public doesn't trust the media – generally. Constantly stating that the "polls" indicate , say, an 84% "approval" rating of Obama and the Democrats in Congress is not realistic. I don't believe it. What I do believe is the stock market. It is not just "Wall Street" commenting - but rather a multitude of middle class Americans. The true "poll" and one which cannot be manipulated by the media indicates that there is little - and dwindeling "faith" in the present course of political action. The media's contention that there is an 84% approval rating of the current administration's action - is undeniably refuted by the market. Tell the truth and stop trying to manipulate the outcome to coincide with the media's agenda. If this country fails - the media will go down in history as having played a significant part in its demise.
"keeping them honest" segment on Congress, please – we all want to know what they make, and we want lifetime insurance benefits, too.
This is the issue in CA. In CA as housing prices escalated govt revenues rose, as did its spending. Of course this economic growth was not sustainable and CA's economy is re-trenching back to pre-bubble levels, although its state/local govt's are reluctant to downsize accordingly. Why is not giving all city, county, state employees a modest pay cut not on the table (including teachers, fire, police, ...). We in the private sector are doing exactly this.
Naturally whenever they discuss spending reductions they always discuss hurting the poor, but there are options in which this would this can be avoided. For instance, its been reported that the head of CA's stem cell research program earns $500K per year. Before the Fed's provided funding to our state shouldn't there have been some expectations and review first, just as they are doing with the banks (although perhaps this is getting too close to Nancy's home)?
I want to know what they all make, too, Deb. So how about it,, CNN ,,why don't you do some real reporting....
--------–WE NEED NEW MANAGEMENT---------
As the president looks at budget cuts for our government, why aren't we, as employers of all government workers, not demanding pay cuts for anyone making over $100,000. After all, the rest of us out here are facing pay cuts, furloughs, retirement benefit cuts, etc. – why should Congressional members, who have failed to protect the public so badly, continuing to get their "golden eggs" if not "golden parachutes?"
How do we impact our government directly where it affects them the most...their pocketbooks? The threat of losing re-election is too remote to have the needed impact. How can our leaders understand what the public is experiencing if they are immune and above it all?
Where is the media in reporting what Congressional members and other government workers are actually making? In the new "transparency" of government, I want to know what I am paying others to work for me. Why isn't the media covering this important issue? Media is so busy scrutinizing every word said, and presenting the endless and meaningless debate about what is happening on a daily basis, that they are missing the big picture. How much could we save taxpayers if Congress, and others, took even a 10% pay cut? Why should Congress vote for their own compensation? Why isn't the media scrutinizing this aspect – these people are no different than CEO's of major corporations, who are being attacked for outlandish spending behavior.
This comes from having people in office who have no principles except for winning (the 8,000 earmarks in the budget prove it). They won, now it's willy nilly spending and government interference with no real solutions to our problems.
You write: "Well, for starters, the financial industry is suffering daily blows because there is still no clear-cut set of policies about how the government will rescue banks and to what degree it will take voting control of other banks beyond Citi."
They haven't done the stress tests yet, David! For goodness sake, he's been in office about 6 weeks. Do you want them to decide on what to do about the thousands of banks without the data, based on guesses?
Have a bit more patience.
The American people,always want instant gratification, in every aspect of their life. As usual David, is right on target. The hole
we are all in,is going to take some time to crawl back out of.
We can't expect a immediate reaction to the stimulus paxkage,
its going to awhile, after all it took eight years to dig that hole.
I think everyone has completely missed the point. Aside from what you may believe(and what he has been portrayed as in the past 25 years) the president is NOT suposed to save us from our problems . The US government is not supposed to be there to fall back on in times of crisis. The government is supposed to be in place to PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS. Unfortunately we've given most of those away the past decade.
What everyone needs to realize is A) This planet is over populated, B) Economic growth(stocks require this) cannot be infinite unless energy is infinite(and it obviously isn't), and C) All people want to do is point fingers. Only you can fix the problems in the world. Modern societies biggest problem is that we expect someone to fix everything for us(obama), instead of fixing everything ourselves.
Maybe if our society wasn't so materialistic we wouldn't have gotten in to this mess in the first place.
5 million jobs lost but Obama created 60 new infrastructure jobs with his bloated stimulus plan.
Many of the issues – health care, environment – are interwoven with the economy but there needs to be a laser like focus on how to solve the economic collapse. On the economic front the President seems to be the only voice we are hearing. His message is compelling but there need to other strong voices who can speak with authority, common purpose and provide a direction. The Treasury Secretary is not one. And, although I have been a strong supporter of the President I am very uncomfortable with an off the cuff remark that the stock market is like politcal polls. I understand its a long term slog but he's talking about my deferred comp and IRAs.
I have lost 75 percent of my 401k and nearly all of my sons 529. My kids will be going to community college rather than the university they have been accepted to. Barack Obama is destroying the economy and when are we going to demand better????
I don't think he should slow down........ However it's inevitable that he will slow down...... due to the political games in Washington......... Also, I do believe, that Geithner does need to step up to the plate already........ the President can't do it all himself...........The Treasury Secretary needs a great plan, soon!! However if Mr. Geithner eventually becomes the money man needed for this catastrophy, then his right answer for the markets ails will be well worth the wait.
People keep throwing around the word "socialism" like they know what it means. I am Liberal and what I see...is a President who is actually trying to lead all of the people. I know the idea of leadership is a novel ideal in politics lately.
The President faces a multiplicity of issues all at once--you just can't treat one without treating all the others--you have to try to hollistically cure--not partialy-because each issue is making a contribution to the other-and believe me--he has got his rice plate overflowing-the right treatment will produce the right results.
President Obama wrote the "Audacity Of Hope" , and that is what the American public needs right now. The rising cost of ,and health care,
five million people out of work and counting,a gloomy wall street,and
housing market values dropping, bankruptcy common place and increasing, banks closing, retirement, savings and collage money
gone, no credit, the reds and blues fighting in the legislature. One consentrating on trying to win the next election, the other trying, but
unsure. The time is now to start working together, and HOPE we don,t cut of both legs trying to save the panient. .
Like any disease, and injection or oral treatment doesn't cure overnight. It takes time for cause and effect to work-if the treatment is appropriate for what the economy is suffering from-–it will take time--I only hope that the treatment was appropriate; and the cause and effect of time--let's hope that it was not to little-to late.
A course correction (more closely resembling an about-face), is exactly what is needed; as we were heading "South" at an alarming rate.
President Obama is walking more closely in the footsteps of Jesus than any "Conservative Christian" affiliated with the prior administration, and, in a more conservative fashion to boot.
He is right to ignore the Wall Street mouthpieces; because the DOW is not the economic indicator that matters to "We the People".
How about Wall Street putting up an indicator which depicts how many are still unemployed; that will give you a real feel for how our economy is doing. Especially since it is the American worker who has built the Country and it's economy.
i think setting a 1-year plan is a great way to get things done in 4 years.
AC: Don't you get it? He doesn't care if he's doing too much at once. He's trying to turn as much control over to the government (leaning toward Socialism) as he can, and is using the economic situation as cover.
This is the guy who said he doesn't believe in big government. Not a single reporter laughed at that or even asked a question about that. You're in the tank so much, that you cannot see what he's really doing.
He's a politician, he is no more honest than any other. FIGURE IT OUT!
one week when President Obama says "hard times and recovery is a long road" the media jumps........he is being too dismal
this week when President Obama says "we're gonna recover give it a chance to take hold, make investments" the media junps......he is being too rosy
the fact that the president is looking strong, working very hard every day is refreshing and builds confidence......we see it and are way ahead of the give me a sound bite for tonight conclusion media.
Anderson, your a pretty good reporter, but I have to say that he is going to have to rise above the efforts of former presidents and their cabinets if he wants to correct the problems we are having. If he can walk the walk than we are in good shape. If he can't then we are in some deep poo-poo.
Obama needs to slow down, it seems like he is trying to beat FDR's record bill passings which he won't do. If he keeps going at the pace he is going this stimulous money is going to be lost. every state will keep no records of this money and then we will really be in deeper trouble. Keep digging your own grave stupid nobama. I guess you people don't realize we lost 3000 points in the market since this clown has been president. He won't make four years he will be impeeched.
The economy is a basic building block of the country. Without its running (passably) well, nothing else useful can be accomplished. Focusing too much on health care now seems to me to be like worrying whether you can provide medical attention to the last 5 or 10 people who live in a building with 50 tenants, while the entire building is on the verge of collapse and burying everybody.
If the economy collapses much further, we won't have the resources to provide better health care...for that matter, we won't even be able to sustain our current level of health care.
Obama needs to learn from history. Reagan fixed the economy after Carter by decreasing taxes and encouraging growth in our economy, which allowed businesses to grow. Look past this promised tax cut for 95% of Americans and realize all the other taxes he is proposing to raise. The stock market keeps dropping based on Obamas actions. Obama owns the economy now.
Obama's 1 month old team will correct course when they see fit. Govt. is the stimulator of choice now. We can sit by like Hoovers and Coolidges like Bush did for the past 3 months since the election. The stimulus bill is beginning to have a real effect NOW.
It is the urgency of this crisis that dictates that waiting or taking half measures will not do. All of the issues you mentioned are interrelated. That the economy and the stock market have not turned around in a week is a ridiculous viewpoint. The policies enacted today will not fix anything this week or this month. Restoring purchasing power to the middle class willtake time. So will propping up the financial sector. Health insurance reform will help businesses big and small, most individuals, and help bring back optimism as well. Restoring public confidence in Wall Street will take years. It is entirely appropriate to attack all these problems at once, Stay the course.
Of course he has to concentrate on all the issues at once – all of the problems we face in this country today are desperate and real. To formally abandon one issue to concentrate on another is sure to alienate the portion of the population that favors the issue on the back burner. However, I also agree that balancing too many fixes at once will lead to the downfall of one – or more. It's a lose-lose situation.
The magnitude of challenges facing our nation unfortunately dictate a massive amount of spending thus incurring a massive amount of loss, waste and fraud. Would we rather have starvation, homelessness and complete chaos??? The President is making decisions knowing that our nation could crumble in an instant via natural disaster, disease, infrastructure collapse, tainted food or medicine, etc... we have no safety margins any longer and China can foreclose at any time!!! So should the President tighten spending and open bread lines or press ahead with his ideas???
There are many issues obviously, and he knew this coming in; he had to think everything through and take on a job that he knew would be nearly impossible.
He's been in office not even two months.
Things take time to get done especially in government.
I say we give him some more time before we tear him down. (Rush Limbaugh).
How do we know that the market is functioning as it is designed. We found out 6 months ago that a banker in France was manipulating the market and ran his company out of business. This person was actually controlling the market. My guess is that stocks are being manipulated by shorters in order to get high quality stocks lower.
Oh! The commentators on CNBC didn't catch this guy either. WOW! They also missed Madoff. Why don't all the commentators on TV chill for a few weeks and let our government get the job done.
President Obama promised a lot to take the chair. Some he is already fulfill and some will retard.
One of the most important decisions came in the budget where he increased taxes on the wealthiest, cut oil industry subsidies, and earmarked $ 600 billion to create a universal system of health.
On climate change, a radical change. Before, the US was to veto any discussion on the subject. Worse than that, the former President Bush denied that there were changes in climate and the scientists have to be censored.
President Obama is not only assumes that must save the planet, as has already adopted measures to have less pollution.
There was also the closing of the Guantanamo prison and President gave clear orders not to happen more torture.
All this in less than two months.
The big problem is still the economic crisis (and its consequences, such as unemployment), but the problem is really serious, and the solutions will appear in the speed that the market wants.
President Obama has already made major changes.
I don't think the President should take the focus off of the other issues. He needs to focus on them all. That's why we elected him.
They are too important to be sidetracked. But it does mean that the White House should consider putting them on a slower track, perhaps trying to bring health care reform to a final vote next year
I think the people who agreed with slowing it down were likely the ones who already have health care. I think that it takes so much time to implement anyway that if he slows it down – people won't see the results for 2 or 3 years from now – instead of next year.
Mr. President, If America doesn't have enough decent jobs than nothing else will matter. It's your move.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with AC361°