Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt took an aggressive approach to dealing with the Great Depression through his New Deal policies, it has been unacceptable for a president to appear to have his hands off the economy in uncertain times. There have been varying degrees of involvement by presidents since Roosevelt, but he established a new precedent that demanded a certain amount of action.
But more than the programs he instituted in the first 100 days of his administration, which didn't end the depression, it was the confidence his actions and words generated in Americans that made the depression bearable and offered the promise of his campaign song, "Happy Days are Here Again."
While the current American economic woes are not on par with those Roosevelt faced, today's crisis could still benefit from an approach similar to Roosevelt's. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely that President Bush will serve as a beacon of hope for struggling families, as he himself has barely come to grips with the depth and degree of the situation, categorizing a possible recession as a "rough patch."
Bush did embrace a stimulus package to pump money into the economy, but that isn't a guarantee for an immediate turnaround and he seems unprepared or unwilling to deal with the long-term problems that plague our economy. The president needs to address the conditions that got us into this mess, and his push for further deregulation will only assure the next crisis is worse than the current one.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the invisible hand that guides the market will stop flipping the bird at the American people and will decide to set the economy back on course. But while we're waiting for that miracle, and many others this administration has failed to deliver, the president needs to take steps to restore faith in the American economy.
I'm not talking about his "Remain calm, all is well!" speeches that he's used on everything from Hurricane Katrina to the war in Iraq, and now with regards to the economy. The president needs to embrace the current situation and not shy away from it by trying to sugarcoat the bad taste Americans have in their mouths. He needs to overcome a disconnect with the American people that is summarized by his recent revelation that gas prices are approaching $4 per gallon. He needs to feel the pain of the American people and he needs to let them know the White House is doing something about it. By doing this he could begin to restore the confidence of the American people and probably curtail the length and magnitude of these hard times.
As the most prominent figure in the federal government, the president receives a majority of the public's anger and adulation. And while in many cases he is just the most visible target, he does have a responsibility to try to use his pulpit in any way he can. There may be a gap between the president's real and perceived ability to handle the economic crisis, but if he could convince the American people that he was doing something to handle the problem, it would go a long way to overcome the shortcomings of his actual policies.
Dave Lombardo is a junior political science major who can actually say the words "stimulus package" without giggling.