Straight talk

The Baltimore Sun

For years, Americans have been kidding themselves about the fragile state of the nation's economy. President Barack Obama is having none of that. He's telling the painful truth about who's responsible for the current economic turmoil and the need for shared sacrifice to pull the nation out of the ditch. The public is showing its appreciation for the straight talk with strong support, despite a plummeting stock market, soaring unemployment and a broken financial system.

The president has convinced a majority of Americans - 63 percent (including many Republicans) - that he is sincere and serious about changing the way business is done in Washington. Contrary to recent political practice, honesty is the best policy. Mr. Obama delivered another dose of truth and a series of challenges in a speech last night to both houses of Congress and a large television audience. To achieve a brighter future, he explained, our health care system must be reformed, our education system needs reshaping and we must achieve energy independence. For any of this to be accomplished, he warned, the nation's massive budget deficits must be reduced. To that end, he pledged to reduce the federal deficit by half by the end of his first term, produce budgets without gimmicks and solve the financial crisis.

Mr. Obama's agenda may seem daunting, but America does have the means and strength to rescue itself from this predicament, and Mr. Obama has a plan.

But the president will have to take full advantage of his solid public support and walk an artful line if he is to successfully negotiate the myriad problems confronting the nation. One way to keep Americans in his corner is for his administration to provide the transparency, accountability and regulatory oversight that was lacking in recent years. Despite his popularity, many Americans are angry about the hundreds of billions of dollars invested to keep troubled banks, auto companies and an insurance giant afloat. Nor are they pleased with what they see as a nascent effort to help improvident neighbors keep their homes. And the government may have to spend more in another round of bailouts and rescues.

If Mr. Obama can offer an honest and convincing explanation of why such steps are necessary, the American public should continue to follow his lead.

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