Ignoring pre-election remarks, media advance theme that Obama only now acknowledges he may have to "scale back" campaign agenda

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI & JOCELYN FONG

Media figures have claimed or suggested that President-elect Barack Obama is only now admitting that he may have to scale back his campaign agenda as a result of the weak economy. In fact, Obama repeatedly said prior to the November 2008 election that some policies he proposed on the campaign trail might need to be delayed because of economic conditions.

On the January 11 edition of ABC's This Week, while discussing which campaign promises he may "have to scale back" because of economic conditions, President-elect Barack Obama said: "I want to be realistic here, not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we gonna be able to do on the pace that we had hoped." Discussing Obama's remarks, several media figures have claimed or suggested that Obama is only now admitting that he may have to scale back his campaign agenda as a result of the weak economy. However, as The Daily Howler editor Bob Somerby noted, Obama repeatedly said prior to the November 2008 election that some policies he proposed on the campaign trail might need to be delayed because of economic conditions.

For instance:

  • At an October 2, 2008, campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Obama said: "Now, people have asked whether the size of the [economic] plan that Congress is voting on, together with the weakening economy, means that the next President will have to scale back his agenda and some of his proposals. And there's no doubt that some programs or policies that I've proposed on the campaign trail may require more time to achieve. But I reject the idea that you can't build a strong middle class at a time when our economy is weak. I believe that building a strong middle class is the key to making our economy strong."
  • At an October 1, 2008, campaign event in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Obama said: "With less money flowing into the Treasury, some useful programs or policies that I've proposed on the campaign trail may need to be delayed." Obama similarly said during a September 30 campaign event in Reno, Nevada, that "[w]ith less money flowing into the Treasury, it is likely that some useful programs or policies that I've proposed on the campaign trail may need to be delayed."
  • During the September 26, 2008, presidential debate at the University of Mississippi, Obama said: "Well, there are a range of things that are probably going to have to be delayed. We don't yet know what our tax revenues are going to be. The economy is slowing down, so it's hard to anticipate right now what the budget is going to look like next year. But there's no doubt that we're not going to be able to do everything that I think needs to be done."
  • On the September 23, 2008, edition of NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer asked Obama: "You've laid out an ambitious plan. You want to improve health care, you want to improve education, the infrastructure, investment in energy. And, oh boy, here comes this $700 billion bill that wasn't a part of your thinking when you laid out this plan. If I'm a voter and I'm trying to decide whether I want to vote for you or Senator McCain, don't I have a right to know right now from you which of those things are going to get hit by the budget axe before I vote for you?" Obama replied:

OBAMA: Although we are potentially providing $700 billion in available money to the Treasury, we don't anticipate that all that money gets spent right away and we don't anticipate that all that money is lost. How we're going to structure that in budget terms, it still has to be decided. Does that mean that I can do everything that I've called for in this campaign --

LAUER: -- Probably not.

OBAMA: -- right away? Probably not. I think we're going to have to phase it in. And a lot of it's going to depend on what our tax revenues look like.

Further, during the September 7, 2008, edition of This Week, Stephanopoulos asked Obama: "So, even if we're in a recession next January, you come into office, you'll still go through with your tax increases." Obama replied: "No, no, no, no, no, no. What I've said, George, is that, even if we're still in a recession, I'm gonna go through with my tax cuts. That's my priority." Stephanopoulos then said: "But not the increases?" Obama replied: "I think we've got to take a look and see where the economy is."

Still, several media figures have echoed the claim that Obama is now hedging or reneging on campaign promises:

  • During the January 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said of Obama: "He's already said even though he doesn't have the job yet -- he's got eight full days to wait until he gets this job -- he says he's got to scale back his promises and goals for his first ... four years because the current economic downturn has him reassessing things that are feasible." Co-host Steve Doocy replied, "What?" and, after airing Obama's comments from This Week, co-host Gretchen Carlson responded: "Well, I think every single president who has been elected probably never comes clean on all the campaign promises. But especially this year, because the economy got Barack Obama elected and the economy is going to screw up all of his campaign promises." After Carlson stated that Obama "won this election on promises. And that one word: change," Doocy claimed: "Well, he's changing his mind." Carlson replied: "Well, changing his mind, exactly. And a lot of people said, 'What change? What are you talking about for the last year?' Well, now they're going to find out that it's much more difficult to come clear and clean on all those promises in this economy. It's not gonna happen."
  • During the January 12 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Willie Geist introduced Obama's This Week remarks by stating: "[Co-host] Joe [Scarborough] and [MSNBC contributor] Pat [Buchanan], I don't know if you found this, but when you were out on the campaign trail sometimes you promise something that perhaps you couldn't deliver on." After airing the remarks, Geist added: "Conditions have changed a bit." Responding to the clip, Buchanan asserted: "What was [California Attorney General and former Gov.] Jerry Brown's good line? 'That was then, now is now.' "
  • During the January 12 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Rush Limbaugh aired a clip of Obama's This Week remarks and then said of Obama: "Even he admits now his campaign promises were just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. And see, it goes to something that I shared with you last week. Elections is not about winning arguments. It's not about telling the right thing to -- it's about telling them what they want to hear. And then after you get into office -- I mean, this is just Bill Clinton all over again."
  • During the January 11 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Blitzer stated that Obama is "already saying, 'You know what, I might not be able to do, right away, everything I promised during the campaign.' " CNN chief national correspondent John King replied: "A dramatic effort, and a smart effort, to lower expectations, because you're right. He promised so much during the campaign, health care reform right out of the box, these climate change initiatives, including the green jobs. And he realizes he has a huge economic problem, a hole of gigantic proportions that he has to fill in first." Echoing its network, a January 12 CNN.com article claimed: "In style and substance, Barack Obama is looking like he could be a different president than the candidate voters got to know during the campaign. His message of changing the country has been replaced by one of repairing the country as he inherits crises that demand immediate action." CNN.com then quoted Obama's This Week remarks.

From the January 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

KILMEADE: Let's talk about Barack Obama and his agenda. He's already said even though he doesn't have the job yet -- he's got eight full days to wait until he gets this job -- he says he's got to scale back his promises and goals for his first --

DOOCY: What?

KILMEADE: -- for his first four years because the current economic downturn has him reassessing things that are feasible.

CARLSON: -- this is -- oh, let's listen to what he said.

OBAMA [video clip]: I'm not suggesting, George -- I want to be realistic here. Not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we gonna be able to do on the pace that we had hoped.

CARLSON: Well, I think every single president who has been elected probably never comes clean on all the campaign promises. But especially this year, because the economy got Barack Obama elected and the economy is going to screw up all of his campaign promises.

I mean, he is not going to be able to do universal health care, which is something he wanted to do. Apparently cap on carbon emissions. Not going to be able to do that. Now, he's asking for patience from the American public. But here's the problem, guys. He won this election on promises. And that one word: change. And there's gonna be a lot of disgruntled --

DOOCY: Well, he's changing his mind.

CARLSON: Well, changing his mind, exactly. And a lot of people said, "What change? What are you talking about for the last year?" Well, now they're going to find out that it's much more difficult to come clear and clean on all those promises in this economy. It's not gonna happen.

DOOCY: Well, Bill Clinton faced a similar predicament when he was transitioning from George Herbert Walker Bush into his administration, because the economy was sputtering as well and he had to scale back some spending plans and abandon a pledge for a middle-class tax cut.

Also, one other thing: When -- apparently when during that rare Sunday session yesterday, where the Obama aides were talking to a number of top Democrats in the Senate, apparently a number of Democrats said, we're really happy that they're listening to us. And, in fact, it sounds like -- remember we had heard there's going to be a big middle-class tax cut and some tax relief or tax credits for businesses? Sounds like they're -- that is becoming, perhaps, a distant memory.

From the January 12 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

GEIST: Joe and Pat, I don't know if you found this, but when you were out on the campaign trail sometimes you promise something that perhaps you couldn't deliver on.

BUCHANAN: Right.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): Oh, that happens.

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, yeah.

BRZEZINSKI: Sometimes.

GEIST: Well, Barack Obama was on George Stephanopoulos' show yesterday saying, remember all that stuff I said on the campaign trail? No way in hell we can do all that. Here he is.

OBAMA [video clip]: What our challenge is going to be is identifying what works and putting more money into that, eliminating things that don't work, and making things that we have more efficient. I'm not suggesting, George -- I want to be realistic here. Not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we gonna be able to do on the pace that we had hoped.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.

GEIST: Conditions have changed a bit.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, actually -- actually, when you get a $2 trillion hole blown in the side of your boat -- exactly, you're not going to be able to --

BUCHANAN: What was Jerry Brown's good line? "That was then, now is now."

SCARBOROUGH: And the thing is Barack Obama faces a radically different world --

BUCHANAN: Sure.

SCARBOROUGH: -- than we all faced six months ago.

GEIST: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: If John McCain had been elected, John McCain would be saying the same exact thing.

Now, I -- listen, here's -- here's the big question right now for policymakers and, you know, a lot of people that watch this show. I just -- I'm troubled by the fact, and you can take it on the other side post 9-11, how there wasn't an alternative voice, an aggressive alternative voice. Are we engaged, [Washington Post editorial writer] Jonathan [Capehart], in group think? Are we spending $2 trillion that we don't have to fix a crisis that could be solved, perhaps, by following the market and maybe $500 billion?

From the January 12 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Here's Obama. Let's go to This Week with Stephanopoulos, whose question was, "Which of your ambitions, which of your campaign promises will you have to scale back on because of the economic downturn?"

OBAMA [audio clip]: I want to be realistic here. Not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we gonna be able to do on the pace that we had hoped.

LIMBAUGH: Really? Not everything we'd promised? Not everything we talked about we're gonna be able to do. But remember, my friends, it's not what Obama says, it's how he says it. Even he admits now his campaign promises were just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. And see, it goes to something that I shared with you last week. Elections is not about winning arguments. It's not about telling the right thing to -- it's about telling them what they want to hear.

And then after you get into office -- I mean, this is just Bill Clinton all over again. "I-- I -- tell ya, I gotta -- the Bush people didn't tell me how bad this was. I have never worked harder in my entire life, and I just can't find a way. I can't find a way to come through those middle-class tax cuts right now." And he never found a way for them. So, we've got -- I mean this, it's a rerun. It's a -- it's a replay. "Wanna be realistic here."

From the January 11 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: And he's already saying, John -- and you and I remember Bill Clinton had to scale back, after he was elected, some of those campaign pledges.

He's already saying, you know what, I might not be able to do, right away, everything I promised during the campaign.

KING: A dramatic effort and a smart effort to lower expectations, because you're right. He promised so much during the campaign: health-care reform right out of the box, these climate change initiatives, including the green jobs.

And he realizes he has a huge economic problem, a hole of gigantic proportions that he has to fill in first. And it's going to take money, time, and political capital away from all those other things he promised. So he has these supporters out there who have been waiting, now, nine of the 10 weeks since the election, saying, when he takes his hands off the Bible, what's going to change?

And he's trying to say, this is going to take a lot of time. He's also, by that, "I'll take any idea," trying to bring some Republicans, Democrats into the table, too.

Because, look, he has great popularity, as [CNN senior political correspondent] Candy [Crowley] said. But once you drop that "elect" and he's President Obama, then it's his economy; it's his unemployment rate. And he will start getting the baggage that every president does when people get mad.

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