The first thought that sprang to my mind Tuesday night as the presidential press conference began was how no expense has been spared in maintaining the mansion in which our elected rulers live. Everything so perfectly gilded and polished and splendid - not as spectacular as Versailles, but pretty doggone impressive, befitting the world's sole remaining superpower, bespeaking a grandeur amid the disturbing economic news and giving the impression of something lasting, defiant of the ephemeral nature of all living things.
Then the president began speaking about, in a phrase he returns to time and again, "a whole host of things." Barack Obama ran for and won the job of Leader of the Free World, which is a terrific accomplishment if one is obsessed with having power over others, but as we all know he got to be the top dog at a time when things were starting to get really screwed up. The world economy is staggering. Wall Street has blown itself up with those "financial weapons of mass destruction," as Warren E. Buffett described financial derivatives, and is still in the money business only because the ordinary taxpayer has been made partner with the tycoons in the investment banking and insurance operations. And the key data point, as a friend of mine likes to emphasize, is joblessness, which is growing here and abroad.
Some readers will think I'm unfairly hammering President Obama with what I'm about to say, but this isn't really anything personal. It applies to most everybody holding elective office, high or low. What they tell the public through press conferences or appearances on talking-head shows is a mixture of nonsense, falsehoods and political can-kicking. Here, courtesy of a listener to my radio show named Craig, is a summary of what Mr. Obama would have us believe based on his comments to the nation.
"He will grow the national debt times three; he will fix health care by turning 17 percent of the economy over to the Feds; he will rid the banks of all their 'toxic assets' (now called 'legacy assets' because that sounds nicer) at the taxpayers' expense; he will see that these private companies are managed prudently; he will, through some magic in which we must believe, cut in half the deficit he has vastly increased by the end of his first term. He will raise taxes on those earning over $250,000, grow the economy, and when he has returned us to prosperity, he'll take it all back in the form of higher taxes in the name of fairness."
I should add that Mr. Obama also promised to end homelessness in this great land of ours.
The president was his calm, calculating self for most of the hourlong Q&A; with the press corps, although he did get a little angry when Ed Henry of CNN asked him why it took him so long to voice his displeasure with the AIG bonuses, saying he liked to wait so he'd know what he's talking about.
As for kicking the can down the road in the time-honored tradition of elected officials, the president's response to Chip Reid of CBS was a prime example of how to do that. Mr. Reid asked about the contrast between the Obama campaign oratory about not saddling the next generation with the burdens of our errors and his immense, debt-ridden budget proposal. Mr. Obama responded that the multitrillion-dollar increase in the national debt represented investments that needed to be made "to meet our growth targets that put us on a pathway to growth." Then a mighty boot sent the can down the road past future elections when the president told us, "The savings will come later," and his nose didn't even grow.
Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is email@example.com.