Paul Greenberg

What ever happened to Hope and Change, let alone Audacity? Was that threesome just a campaign slogan? Apparently so. Today's challenges may be new, but the Obama administration decided to stick with the old federal budget, which has been in the works since last year -- before the latest, steepest rise in unemployment, before the Panic of '08 gave way to the Recession of '09 ... in short, before the Obama administration.

Why would it do that? Here's the less than edifying word from Peter Orszag, the new president's new man in charge of the budget. He explains that "fundamentally, the economy is weak...."

This is news? The question is what the administration intends to do about it. This week the command from the helm was: Steady as she sinks. Just keep on drifting on a tide of red ink.

The massive government debt being run up by various bailouts plus a $787-billion stimulus bill (will it prove all sail or just more dead weight?) is troublesome enough. But it's not the size of the stimulus that troubles most -- maybe it should have been even bigger -- but its lack of focus. There doesn't seem to be any clear, consistent, coherent strategy to the administration's response to this deepening economic slump.

Back when this country was in the throes of a Great Depression, a president who believed in action -- Franklin Roosevelt -- changed course 180 degrees with a simple explanation: The time had come, he said, for Dr. Win-the-War to replace Dr. New Deal. The result: All that massive spending on tanks and planes and ammunition, and the massive war debt that went with it, didn't just win the war; it finally ended the Depression.

The American people could accept that debt, and buy war bonds to finance it, and sacrifice in ways not just great and small but far beyond the mere material, because our very existence as a free nation was at stake. And, with it, the future of the free world.

What is the rationale for the Obama administration's first and gigantic ($410 billion) budget? There doesn't seem to be one except inertia. Or as Mr. Orszag explained, the budget for this year was already in the works, so (what th' heck) why not stick with it?

So much for hope and change. And if this is audacity, what would be just plain old habit?

Some of us had hoped for a change of course or at least a better explanation for continuing on the old one. Why keep on doing the same thing (spend, spend, spend) without clear priorities and expect a different result?

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.