President-elect Barack Obama today sought to calm Wall Street and Main Street alike with a sober but reassuring assessment of the nation's finances.
"When you think about the structural problems that we already had in the economy before the financial crisis, this is a big problem, and it's going to get worse," Obama told CBS' "Meet the Press" program.
But he dismissed comparisons to the Great Depression, saying "I think it's important for us to remember that, as tough as times are right now, they're nothing compared to what my grandparents went through, what the greatest generation went through."
Yet the contrast between Obama's high profile and President George W. Bush's comparatively low profile marked a striking shift in presidential power. In a weekly radio address, in a television interview and in a news conference, Obama sounded like a sitting president. He rallied support for an auto bailout and the massive economic stimulus he announced this weekend, saying, "We need action, and action now."
And he spoke directly to consumers and businesses, conscious that, increasingly, they are taking their cues from him, rather than Bush.
"The president-elect is it seems to me much more hands-on, talking more about the future policies that in the past incoming presidents would have," Stuart Rothenberg, editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, told ABC News.
"He is sounding much more as if he were president than George Bush is president. … He's sounding like a problem-solver today, and apparently that's what the markets are interested in, it's what the financial community is interested in and I think they are very much looking to him now, even though he wont be sworn in for another month or so."
Obama even took the unusual step of criticizing the outgoing president, saying, "We have not seen the kind of aggressive steps in the housing market to stem foreclosure that I would like to see … If it is not done during the transition, it will be done by me."
Even his announcement today of his new choice for Veteran's Affairs secretary was a stark repudiation of President Bush's approach to the Iraq war. Gen. Eric Shinseki (Ret.) is best known for his prescient answer when senators asked how many troops it would take to stabilize Iraq.
"Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," Shinseki said at the time, in February 2001, a month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
That view was considered heresy in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon. Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, said Shinseki was "wildly off the mark." Shinseki was soon ushered into retirement.
Illustrating the continuing tug-of-war between the current and future presidents, by the time Obama had finished saying what his administration would do for veterans in a Sunday news conference, the White House had issued a statement saying the Bush administration had given veterans "unprecedented support."