Telling the Truth Slowly
The Obama administration's handling of the banking bailout reminds me of Mike McCurry describing his role as press secretary during the Clinton Administration as one of "telling the truth slowly." No one has wanted to say how much everything is going to cost when all is said and done and so instead the public learns of projected expenditures a piece at a time. President Obama has so far preserved and even grown his political capital by resisting the temptation to talk down to the public, even as he has maintained flexibility to operate by being intentionally vague at times.
The president walks a fine line between leveling with the American people about mistakes made, like not restricting AIG bonuses in the first place, and building the support for unpopular but necessary action. If his motives are seen as protecting the bailout recipients rather than those who are footing the bill he'll cross that line, to his long-term detriment.
For now Americans trust Obama's motives. But it's become increasingly clear that anger over the AIG bonuses is not only justified in and of itself but is also a proxy for larger anger at the sense of entitlement, not to mention outright greed, of the banking community. So long as Obama continues to demonstrate that he is willing to earn his political capital every day - not that he's entitled to it - he will be able to lead effectively.
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