Having allowed his Republican opponents to dominate the economic debate for two weeks as his stimulus proposal languished, President Obama used his first news conference to rebut them—coolly and civilly, yet without leaving any doubt that he can strike back harder if necessary. He drew the lines that had to be drawn, calling out the opposition’s hypocrisy on spending and identifying conservatives whose answer is to do nothing (except cut taxes for the rich, as always).
For the White House, the strategic issue is whether he waited too long to confront the stimulus critics—and how he will balance bipartisanship with toughness in dealing with the recalcitrant Republicans from now on.
As the debate over the stimulus unfolded, the still mighty conservative propaganda machine incessantly churned out three talking points, encountering very little effective response from the newly empowered progressives:
We should reject the president’s plan because we need tax cuts, they said, not spending. We should reject the president’s plan because the plan is spending, not stimulus. We should reject the president’s plan because the spending will increase the deficit.
And though this was rarely articulated with any candor, we should reject his plan because government always makes matters worse—and the market will eventually solve the problem of falling demand without intervention.
Replying to questions from reporters, Mr. Obama seized the chance to gut each of these arguments in straightforward language. Tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest citizens won’t solve our economic problems, he said, because “time and time again” the Bush administration followed that course, “and it has only helped lead us to the crisis that we face right now.”