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Turning an ocean liner in an era of speedboats

Turning the audacity of hope into the power of persistence is a daunting task in an age of Twitter, even for the prime-time and online president, Barack Obama.

Faced with instant gratification expectations, has Obama reached too far in tying his presidency to his $3.6 trillion budget proposal? Does he have the time and political power to modernize the monstrous health care and entitlement systems that previous presidencies were unable to tame?

When Obama promises to cut the federal deficit in half, he is still talking about spending roughly $600 billion a year more than the government takes in, unheard of until recently.

Faced with Republican opposition and Democratic unease over the $7 trillion or more he proposes to add to the national debt over the next decade, Obama now appears ready to sacrifice permanent middle-class tax cuts, which begin this week, for more federal “investment” in education, energy, and health care reform and deficit reduction.

In a nationally televised press conference Tuesday, Obama invoked familiar political imagery of government as an ocean-going vessel.

“What I am confident about is that we are moving in the right direction,” Obama said, adding that “we are going to stay with it as long as I’m in this office.

“You look back four years from now, I think, hopefully, people will judge that body of work and say, ‘This is a big ocean liner. It’s not a speedboat. It doesn’t turn around immediately. But we’re in a better, better place because of the decisions that we made.’ ”

He declared himself a devotee of a “philosophy of persistence.”

But how does he turn the liner in an era of speed-boat attention spans?

By what might be called a byte-by-byte leadership style.

Unlike his predecessor, Obama is out there as a matter of design.

The Obama brand and the government’s direction are inseparable, and Obama made no pretense in hiding the marriage in his prime-time press conference.

“This budget,” he said, “is inseparable from this (economic) recovery.”

George W. Bush so much wanted to parse his public appearances that he initially stayed away from devastated post-Katrina New Orleans for fear of getting in the way, and it made him look detached and uncaring.

Obama is the opposite, eminently available, though rarely unscripted. Even on routine days, his image and ideas are all over social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Two days after his press conference, he hosted the first-ever presidential online town hall, addressing a few of more than 100,000 questions submitted to the White House Web site. Cable TV covered it live.

Even on Camp David weekends, Obama shows up on “60 Minutes.” He talks fiscal policy with Jay Leno.

As he makes the case for unprecedented spending on everything from modernizing health care to expanding education funding, Obama is flanked by the massive email army he enlisted during the 2008 campaign.

Its message managers cajole millions of Obama supporters to keep pressure on their members of Congress to pass the budget, even suggesting what to say to which politicians.

Their underlying message: Any opposition is either a feckless paucity of ideas or an unpatriotic wish for Obama to fail.

In his first two months in office, Obama has shown more of a willingness to meet Congress on its turf than Bush did in eight years. The day after his press conference, Obama motored up Pennsylvania Avenue to keep Democrats together on the budget.

Even deficit hawks like Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, who professes horror at the sea of red ink the government is swimming in, appeared charmed.

All of this is powerful imagery and sage media manipulation. But in the end, a few numbers will count most: employment, economic growth, and the deficits this generation is leaving to those that follow.

Chuck Raasch is political editor for Gannett News Service. E-mail: craasch@gns.gannett.com.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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