The President’s Tone

By Caitlin Taylor

Feb 17, 2009 11:49am

Expect President Obama’s language today to shift tonally from urgency to optimism, as he signs the stimulus bill into law at the solar panel installation at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science. It’s an optimistic location — he’ll talk about new green jobs — for legislation he has said is necessary to avoid a "national catastrophe." And thats been a line — between alarm and optimism — the president has struggled to walk. "I’m constantly trying to thread the needle between sounding alarmist but also letting the American people know the circumstances that we’re in," the president told Nightline last week. Or, as he put it in Fort Myers, Florida: "I believe in hope, but I also believe in doing something!" It’s been a challenge — conveying urgency to prod action while simultaneously avoiding a panic. Historians say so far Mr. Obama’s oratory has helped where his actions have been wanting. "You see Obama sputtering a lot in January and February 2009," historian Douglas Brinkley told us for Good Morning America today.  "It"s his rhetoric that keeps saving him." The president is of course a student of history. And while he has praised how Ronald Reagan was able to make America feel good again, aides say the president whom Obama is most guided by these days is Franklin Roosevelt, in particular the fireside chats. President Obama admires FDR’s ability to explain problems so the average Amercian could understand them and feel confident a solution was coming. But Mr Obama may have a ways to go in his pitch before he can credibly claim the oratorical mantle of FDR. "It’s a kind of new federalism going on," Brinkley says, "a new belief in government. But I do think it needs to be packaged a little bit better so it’s not just an argument of ‘what company should we bail out?’" FDR when writing his speeches would think of a workplace where one man was painting a ceiling, another fixing a car, and a third sat at a cash register.  He purposefuly tried to tailor the speech to them. President Obama reads some of the emails sent to the White House from american who are struggling. Aides say it helps him focus on the nature of these problems. – jpt UPDATE: Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., issued a statement today saying, "Now that the stimulus bill has passed, my hope is that the President will now focus on inspiring confidence in the economy instead of the fear he promoted in order to get it passed." UPDATE 2: While typing this on my blackberry as the plane landed here in Denver, I accidentally did not capitalize the president’s last name in the 8th paragraph. That has been corrected.

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