Obama, his personal reputation, and his policy's public perception.

(Via RCP) Is the New York Times feeling well?

Obama Selling a New Deal, but Promising It Will Be Brief

It was only 13 years ago that Bill Clinton declared before a joint session of Congress that “the era of big government is over.” President Obama’s challenge on Tuesday night is to declare that, out of ugly necessity, big government is back — and then to make a persuasive case, with a specificity he has avoided until now, that if done right, this era will not last for long.

His aides say this is no moment for the lofty idealism of the inaugural address, 35 long days and roughly a thousand Dow Jones points ago. His task is to be at once reassuring and realistic, or, as one of Mr. Obama’s economic advisers said over the weekend, “to convince the country we’ve finally pulled the ripcord on the parachute, even if we can’t tell you how long we fall or where we land.”

The hardest part will be convincing his countrymen that they cannot save themselves without first saving the banks that let greed blot out prudence, the carmakers who ignored competitive reality for a quarter-century, and the homeowners who somehow persuaded themselves that housing prices only move up.

This article by David Sanger was generally sensible.

No, really: it generally recognizes that the President is dealing with a disconnect between how the population is still reacting to him, personally, and how its reacting to his policies (essentially, they still like the former, not liking specific issues at all, at all). Bank nationalization, the auto industry (with an actual friendly nod to the ‘foreign’ plants that are providing Americans with jobs!), the mortgage crisis (with an actual admission that Santelli had a point about something!) – the Times is generally of the opinion that Obama needs to address these, but very, very carefully.

So far, so good. Where I disagree with Sanger is on the tone of tonight’s speech. Personally – and as I noted in this podcast – I think that Obama needs to go what I’m starting to think of as Full Metal Unicorn: which is to say, what we really need right now is a speech that will make people feel better, even if it doesn’t actually say anything meaningful. That article that I linked to earlier in RedHot is why I think so: right now the market is more or less on the ragged edge, and would probably react best to a gentle, calm, and above all reassuring touch.

Put another way: one of the hidden jobs of the President is to be the king-substitute, and right now that’s what the American people want to see, front and center. Somebody wandering through the bomb shelter, passing out cigarettes and saying hello to the shopgirls and pensioners waiting for the V-1s to stop smashing down. They don’t necessarily want to be told over and over again about how the government’s going to stop the bombing; it’s assumed that he’s working on the problem already. In fact, talking too much about it may end up suggesting that he doesn’t actually know how to stop the bombing at all…

But feel free to ignore me, of course.

Moe Lane

Crossposted to Moe Lane.