The Note, 4/14/09: Life of a Salesman — Selling what’s already been sold — this time, it counts

By Caitlin Taylor

Apr 14, 2009 7:58am

By RICK KLEIN He’s already made the sale once. But if President Obama doesn’t get the public to buy all over again, that first sale may as well never have happened. (And even a White House puppy won’t change that fact.) What’s selling now are perceptions: With just enough economic news to suggest a turned corner, the images of government money on the move are designed to get private money moving again. This plays off the reality that perceptions of recovery are interwoven with the actions that will ultimately pull the nation out of its economic drift. Coming out of the pirate standoff and his first major foreign trip, this represents a recommitment to issue one (and two, and three) by the White House. But one problem in making the sale: The administration can’t really even say what the American people have already purchased. “While it is true that there are 2,000 transportation projects that have been approved by the Department of Transportation, there are not 2,000 projects underway, as the president’s remarks might lead you to believe,” per ABC’s Lisa Chinn. “That of course, begs the question:  how many Recovery Act transportation projects actually have begun? The administration isn’t saying. And furthermore, states aren’t required by law to post what they’ve actually started until October, so we won’t really know until then,” Chinn writes. This White House campaign — carrying through transportation events all week — is seeking to define the stimulus package at this odd period after it became law, but before most shovels are turning over dirt. The opposition, such as it is, is rallying this week with a message it can fit in tea bags — a simple (maybe too-simple) anti-tax, anti-spending message. (And isn’t it just asking to be proven wrong to claim that the package is “ahead of schedule” and “under budget”? What happens — as seems inevitable — when a project gets delayed with cost overruns? Or when a bridge is built to — we don’t know — somewhere that’s nowhere?) A special price: “The program’s early success may owe more to the depth of the economic crisis than to any newfound efficiency in Washington,” Michael Oneal and Richard Simon write for the Los Angeles Times. “Across the country . . . construction companies had seen business plunge so far so fast that they rushed to submit unusually low bids for the federally funded projects — hoping to have at least some work in the summer construction season, and hoping to stay afloat.”  They’re moving fast: “The Obama stimulus is rapidly building a head of steam, outpacing its critics by the sheer speed of its implementation,” Laurent Belsie writes for the Christian Science Monitor. “All of this is part of the administration’s full-court press to persuade Americans that the stimulus is working despite a mounting chorus of doubters who wonder about the wisdom of using debt-financed spending to cure America’s overindulgence in, well, debt-financed spending.”  Coming Tuesday: another speech on the economy, selling some optimism, at 11:35 pm ET. From the White House: “President Obama will travel to Georgetown University to deliver a major speech on the economy. The President will discuss how each step his administration has taken to confront this economic crisis fits within his broader vision of how we move this economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity.  He will also speak about the significant work that remains to be done to get the economy moving forward once again.” (We know it’s puppy day — but why Georgetown? Wouldn’t this kind of speech work well on the road?) “President Barack Obama is trying to strike a careful balance between highlighting economic progress and underscoring continued challenges as he seeks to reverse the recession he inherited but now owns,” the AP’s Liz Sidoti writes. “Aides billed the address as major but acknowledged that it was expected to contain no significant policy announcements. Rather, they said, the speech would outline the state of the economy when Obama took office in January, steps his administration has taken in its first three months, and what still needs to be done to right troubled sectors, including the housing, banking and financial industries.”  “Obama also wants to reaffirm — in a highly visible way that is sure to lead every newspaper and evening news broadcast in the country — that he is deeply engaged in bringing the economy out of its doldrums despite having spent much of the past two weeks either traveling internationally or dealing with the pirate crisis,”’s Chris Cillizza writes.  Drudge-boosted stories like this don’t help perceptions: “Illinois is getting a jump on the federal stimulus program, claiming more than 12% of the road and bridge projects approved so far by the U.S. Department of Transportation,” Crain’s Chicago Business reports.  But the public wants to hear what the president says: 58 percent in a new CNN poll say the president has a “clear plan for solving the country’s economic plans.” (And 62 percent say he’s doing enough to cooperate with Republicans; only 37 percent say the same about Republicans in their dealings with the president.) New Gallup numbers: “Over two-thirds of Americans — 71% — have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in President Obama to do or recommend the right thing for the economy, a much higher level of confidence than is given to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, or the Democratic or Republican leaders in Congress. These results, from a new April 6-9 Gallup Poll, show that President Obama continues to be the individual upon whom Americans are most willing to bestow their confidence when it comes to the economy.”    More on that theme: “Three months into his presidency, Barack Obama stands out as perhaps the most trusted figure in American politics,” Politico’s Andy Barr writes. “In a new Public Strategies Inc./POLITICO national survey of 1,000 registered voters, Obama outdistances figures on both the left and the right in earning the public’s trust, with two-thirds of respondents saying they trust the president ‘to identify the right solutions to the problems we face as a nation.’ “  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is our guest on’s “Top Line” Tuesday, at noon ET.    The pirates are gone — but the challenges have just begun. (If you don’t think this is still being taken seriously, just ponder for a moment how much worse this could have been for the president.) Tougher action, early: “A day after the dramatic rescue of an American sea captain held captive by Somali pirates, US officials said yesterday that they are considering launching attacks on the staging areas from which pirates have hijacked a rising number of international merchant vessels,” The Boston Globe’s Bryan Bender reports. “Pentagon officials said planning is underway to determine how US and allied military forces, using troops, ships, and aircraft, could disrupt the pirate’s safe havens in coastal villages of Somalia. . . . But some analysts expressed concern that the drumbeat for a more muscular US approach — repeated yesterday by some members of Congress — focused too narrowly on a mere symptom of a much larger problem: the failed state of Somalia.”  “President Obama vowed Monday to ‘halt the rise of piracy’ off the coast of Africa following the dramatic rescue of an American merchant captain, foreshadowing a longer and potentially more treacherous struggle ahead as he weighs a series of problematic options,” Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. “But policy makers and experts said the precision killing of three Somali pirates with three bullets would certainly prove easier than wiping out the larger threat in the shipping lanes or reversing the instability that makes Somalia a breeding ground for pirates and Islamic terrorists.”  This cuts multiple ways: “Because presidents get the blame whether they deserve it or not, they get the credit, too, whether they deserve it or not,” Politico’s Roger Simon writes.  This has the potential to subsume all of this — many times over: “The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions,” David E. Sanger reports in The New York Times. “The proposals, exchanged in confidential strategy sessions with European allies, would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspection. But the proposals would also allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks, a sharp break in the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities.”  The Iranian regime, in the news: “Among the many mixed signals coming from Iran in recent days — it’s willing to talk with the U.S. on the one hand; it’s moving ahead on all fronts with its nuclear program on the other — one signal deserves a closer look: Tehran’s decision to charge an Iranian-American journalist with espionage,” Gerald Seib writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “This is a significant event that likely serves multiple, unpleasant purposes for an Iranian government with which the Obama administration is about to begin talking.”  Elsewhere on foreign policy — movement on Cuba that goes just far enough for both sides not to hate it (but not far enough for either side to be satisfied). “The changes will allow unlimited visits to family members on the island as well as unlimited remittances — the cash recent immigrants to the U.S. send to relatives back home. President Bush imposed stricter restrictions on both in 2004,” ABC’s Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller reports. “The Obama administration will also take steps to enhance the flow of information by allowing U.S. telecommunications networks to link the U.S. and Cuba; and will allow an expansion of humanitarian items that can be sent to the island (including clothing, personal hygiene items and fishing equipment). It will remain illegal to send items to senior government officials and members of the Communist Party.”  The Cuban-American reaction: “The policy change — which includes pushing for more cellphone and satellite service for Cubans on the island — strikes middle ground, reversing former President George W. Bush’s efforts to tighten restrictions against Cuba but stopping far short of some efforts in Congress to lift all travel restrictions to the island,” Lesley Clark and Luisa Yanez write for the Miami Herald. “In Miami, travel agencies began considering additional charter flights and bigger planes. But the policy change also reignites one of the most emotionally charged issues in Miami’s Cuban exile community: Should exiles visit the island they fled, and in doing so, help prop up the communist government’s economy with U.S. dollars?”  On immigration — a step forward, but maybe a step back: “The nation’s two major labor federations have agreed for the first time to join forces to support an overhaul of the immigration system, leaders of both organizations said on Monday. The accord could give President Obama significant support among unions as he revisits the stormy issue in the midst of the recession,” Julia Preston and Steven Greenhouse report.  “But while the compromise repaired one fissure in the coalition that has favored broad immigration legislation, it appeared to open another. An official from the United States Chamber of Commerce said Monday that the business community remained committed to a significant guest-worker program,” they write. This sentence should sound familiar: The Minnesota Senate race is moving toward a conclusion. “Democrat Al Franken won last year’s U.S. Senate race, three judges decided Monday,” Rachel E. Stassen-Berger reports for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “[Norm] Coleman has pledged to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, which would put an election certificate on hold, at least until the state court fight is complete. Coleman said Monday, hours before the trial court issued its decision, that he would continue to fight to get more absentee ballots counted in the race.”  “Enough is enough,” said DNC Chairman Tim Kaine.  “It is time for Norm Coleman to concede and for Al Franken to be sworn in as the next U.S. Senator from Minnesota.” Said Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsburg: “More than 4,400 Minnesotans remain wrongly disenfranchised by this court’s order. The court’s ruling tonight is consistent with how they’ve ruled throughout this case but inconsistent with the Minnesota tradition of enfranchising voters.” Catching George Stephanopoulos’ eye Tuesday . . .    Think Condoleezza Rice enjoyed her weekend? Check out her Daily Beast account from The Masters, trailing (of course) Tiger Woods.  Coming to a (small) screen near you: “HBO Films has optioned ‘Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime,’ an in-the-works Harper Collins book by political writers Mark Halperin and John Heilemann,” Variety’s Michael Fleming writes.  Is Bo a broken campaign pledge, even before he’s fully housebroken? ABC’s Jake Tapper recalls the Obamas appearance on “Entertainment Tonight” in September. “We’re going to adopt a dog, I think,” Michelle Obama said. “A rescue dog,” added then-Sen. Obama.  The Kicker: “You must demonstrate leadership from day one.” — Cesar “The Dog Whisperer” Millan, offering advice to President Obama on how to handle the new addition to his household. “Come to my show.” — Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas, to President Obama, at the White House Easter Egg Roll. Don’t miss “Top Line,”’s new daily political Webcast, hosted by Rick Klein and David Chalian, at noon ET. Tuesday’s guests: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and Republican strategist Kevin Madden. Follow The Note on Twitter: For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus