Referring to a question he asked at President Obama's press conference, on Morning Joe, Chuck Todd suggested Obama was being inconsistent in not asking the American people for sacrifice -- during a recession, with millions recently unemployed -- after having criticized President Bush for failing to ask for sacrifice following 9-11.
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Referring to a question he asked President Obama during Obama's March 24 press conference, on the March 25 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, NBC News' chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd suggested Obama was being inconsistent in not asking the American people for sacrifice -- during a recession, with millions recently unemployed -- after Obama criticized President Bush for failing to ask the American people for sacrifice following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
During the March 24 press conference, Todd asked Obama: "Some have compared this financial crisis to a war, and in times of war, past presidents have called for some form of sacrifice. ... [W]hy haven't you asked for something specific that the public should be sacrificing to participate in this economic recovery?" Discussing the question the next day on Morning Joe, Todd stated that he asked the question because Obama had "criticized President Bush for ... sort of wasting an opportunity when he had -- when the President Bush had the whole nation listening, ready to do something, and the president asked nothing." Todd did not acknowledge during the press conference or during his Morning Joe appearance that Americans have lost more than 4 million jobs and $11 trillion (18 percent) of household wealth since the start of the recession.
Indeed, in his response to Todd, Obama stated in part: "With respect to the American people, I think folks are sacrificing left and right. They -- you've got a lot of parents who are cutting back on everything to make sure that their kids can still go to college. You've got workers who are deciding to cut an entire day and entire day's worth of pay so that their fellow co-workers aren't laid off. I think that, across the board, people are making adjustments, large and small, to accommodate the fact that we're in very difficult times right now."
Todd's question and subsequent remarks echo comments by Newsweek's Howard Fineman, who wrote on March 10 that "the establishment" has criticized Obama for "[t]he failure to call for genuine sacrifice on the part of all Americans, despite the rhetorical claim that everyone would have to 'give up' something."
Other media figures commenting on Todd's question at the press conference similarly made the flawed analogy between calling for sacrifice during a war and during a recession. Jonah Goldberg wrote on National Review's The Corner blog: "Maybe I missed something, but it sure sounded like Obama is simply unwilling to really call for sacrifice from the American people. George Bush was denounced for not calling for sacrifice after 9/11." During the press conference, Jonathan Martin wrote in a Politico blog post that Todd asked a "[g]ood Question: Where is the call for sacrifice? Recall President Bush only asked that folks go shopping after 9/11. POTUS responds: 'I think folks are sacrificing left and right,' before citing the struggles facing many Americans right now." In a subsequent post, Martin asserted: "Chuck follows and gets POTUS to rattle off what he expects of Ameicans [sic]: Work hard, look after their families, volunteer in their community and follow the debate in Washington. Not a very demanding request."
From the March 24 press conference:
TODD: Thank you, Mr. President. Some have compared this financial crisis to a war, and in times of war, past presidents have called for some form of sacrifice. Some of your programs, whether for Main Street or Wall Street, have actually cushioned the blow for those that were irresponsible during this economic period of prosperity, or supposed prosperity, that you were talking about.
Why, given this new era of responsibility that you're asking for, why haven't you asked for something specific that the public should be sacrificing to participate in this economic recovery?
OBAMA: Well, let me -- let me take that question in a couple -- couple of phases. First of all, it's not true that we have not asked sacrifice from people who are getting taxpayer money. We have imposed some very stiff conditions. The only problem that we've had so far are contracts that were put in place before we took over.
But moving forward, anybody -- any bank, for example, that is receiving capital from the taxpayers is going to have to have some very strict conditions in terms of how it pays out its executives, how it pays out dividends, how it's reporting its lending practices. So we want to make sure that there's some stiff conditions in place.
With respect to the American people, I think folks are sacrificing left and right. They -- you've got a lot of parents who are cutting back on everything to make sure that their kids can still go to college. You've got workers who are deciding to cut an entire day and entire day's worth of pay so that their fellow co-workers aren't laid off. I think that, across the board, people are making adjustments, large and small, to accommodate the fact that we're in very difficult times right now.
What I've said here in Washington is that we've got to make some tough choices. We got to make some tough budgetary choices. What we can't do, though, is sacrifice long-term growth investments that are critical to the future. And that's why my budget focuses on health care, energy, education -- the kinds of things that can build a foundation for long-term economic growth as opposed to the fleeting prosperity that we've seen over the last several years. I mean, when you have an economy in which the majority of growth is coming from the financial sector -- when AIG selling a derivative is counted as an increase in the gross domestic product, then that's not a model for sustainable economic growth.
And what we have to do is invest in those things that will allow the American people's capacity for ingenuity and innovation, their ability to take risks, but make sure that those risks are grounded in good products and good services that they believe they can market to the rest of the country, that those models of economic growth are what we're promoting, and that's what I think our budget does.
TODD: But you don't think there should be a specific call to action that you want the American public -- I mean, this is -- you've described this as an economic crisis like nothing we have --
TODD: -- seen since the Great Depression.
OBAMA: Well, as I said, the American people are making a host of sacrifices in their individual lives. We are going through an extraordinary crisis, but we believe that taken -- if you take the steps that we've already taken with respect to housing, with respect to small businesses, if you look at what we're doing in terms of increasing liquidity in the financial system, that the steps that we're taking can actually stabilize the economy and get it moving again.
What I'm looking from the American people to do is that they are going to be doing what they've always done, which is working hard, looking after their families, making sure that despite the economic hard times that they're still contributing to their community, that they're still participating in volunteer activities, that they are paying attention to the debates that are going on in Washington.
And the budgets that we're putting forward and some of the decisions that we're having to make are going to be tough decisions, and we're going to need the support of the American people, and that's part of why what I've tried to do is to be out front as much as possible, explaining in very clear terms exactly what we're doing.
From the March 25 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
SCARBOROUGH: Let's go right now to NBC News chief White House correspondent --
MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): Let's ask Chuck to chime in.
SCARBOROUGH: -- Chuck Todd. Chuck, an epic battle right now --
TODD: I'm not chiming in on that topic.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. We're going to go off of that topic, and --
SCARBOROUGH: -- go to your question last night --
SCARBOROUGH: -- to the president. Why did you ask it? And how do you think he responded?
TODD: Well, I asked it simply because we've heard a lot of -- this is an unprecedented time, right? -- and one of the things that the president, when he was a candidate, criticized President Bush for doing was sort of wasting an opportunity when he had -- when the President Bush had the whole nation listening, ready to do something, and the president asked nothing. And so, that was why I was asking it.
You know, this is -- they've -- he's described this economic crisis as something we haven't seen since the Great Depression, so was there some sort of call to action? Is there some -- you know, for some, that could be a sacrifice; for others, it could be something else that he was asking for, and I've been surprised that nothing has come out of this administration.
Somebody wrote last night -- it's sort of been -- it's been a topic that's been sort of hanging over the head of this new administration. They kind of want to deal with it on one hand; on the other hand, they have to deal with all these fires first, right? They've got to put the fingers in all of these financial dikes. And then, at some point, you do get the sense that they want to do some sort of -- OK, everybody needs to do X, or everybody should try and do Y, or we wish Americans would do Z, but they don't seem to be there yet because he's still got a lot of -- a lot of -- a lot of holes to fill.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, and, Jeffrey Sachs, that's -- again, that's the point I've been making. If you want to talk about health-care reform, fine, but give us the tough choices on how we --
SCARBOROUGH: -- restrain costs. Don't just say we're going to throw 650 billion more dollars in the system.
JEFFREY SACHS (The Earth Institute director): I think, especially, also, in the financial sector, you know, they just haven't gotten this right in terms of, you know, asking, you know, for the sacrifice from those who caused the crisis in the first place and, obviously, they've taken a lot of political hits for that. But it's a little bit understandable -- just hasn't been directed at what the banks, the bankers, the managers need to do, and they've not asked from them what's necessary.
SCARBOROUGH: Chuck Todd, how do you think the president did last night? Just -- let's just talk pure style because --
SCARBOROUGH: -- that sense of confidence is so important for presidents speaking to America.