Paul Greenberg

Barack Obama's answers have a way raising more questions. Consider a few he offered during his White House press conference Tuesday evening:

He said his administration's economic program is already showing results because housing sales have increased at last. But economists offer a different reason. To quote a story in that day's paper: "Sales of previously owned homes in the U.S. unexpectedly increased in February as record foreclosures pushed prices down and lured first-time buyers into the market." Which is the way a free market is supposed to work. The lower prices go, the more buyers may appear.

Can the president really believe this first, hopeful sign of a turnaround in housing is his doing rather than the market's? It's a function of something called the law of supply and demand. Surely he hasn't repealed that one by executive order yet.

"We're doing everything we can to reduce the deficit," the president assured his listeners while proposing to increase it. His budget projects a total of $9.3 trillion -- that's trillion with a capital T -- in deficit spending over the next decade.

The figure is from the Congressional Budget Office, which is the honest, nonpartisan and independent source in these matters. But the White House says its deficits will amount to "only" $2.3 trillion over the next 10 years. Clearly its source is the well-known Rosie Scenario, every president's best friend when it comes to budgeteering. Miss Rosie may not have the best of records when it comes to economic prognostication, but every administration seems to rely on her.

Under this budget, government spending would account for more than 28 percent of the total economy this year -- the highest share since the Second World War. But the president says he's doing everything that can be done to reduce the deficit. Even more impressive, he said it with a straight face.

If you believe that one, here's another: The president said his plan to reduce tax exemptions for charitable giving will have no effect on the donations that nonprofits depend on for their good works. Those who run philanthropies tend to have a different opinion. They also tend to know their business.

And the president is as angry as anybody about those bonuses handed out to the suits at AIG who left the company (and a good part of the American economy) a wreck. One reporter wanted to know why, if he was so angry, he'd waited till public outrage mounted before expressing his own. "It took us a couple of days" to react, he explained, "because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."

Good line, but not a very credible one. Does anybody believe that this president would have raised Cain about these bonuses if the American public hadn't done so first? He brings to mind the leader of the French Revolution who demanded to know where the mob was going so he could lead it.

This president, you'll be glad to know, is for expanding educational opportunities for American children. Unless, of course, they happen to be poor kids in Washington, D.C., who are attending private schools of their choice through a voucher program he's just killed -- with an enthusiastic assist from a Democratic Congress.

How dare these uppity urchins want to go the kind of schools the Obamas send their own girls to! Naturally, he didn't mention that little matter in his press conference. Sometimes the most telling thing about a presidential press conference is what a president doesn't tell us.

But, no matter, our president's answers puzzle only if one takes them seriously. If you just lean back and let his pleasant voice wash over you in rhythmic waves, like the sound of easy-listening music coming from a radio someone has left on in the corner of a room, it can really be quite soothing. Only if you try to find a meaning in his words, or attempt to figure out the logic of his positions, does Barack Obama's smooth delivery begin to sound hollow at the core.

The trick is not to pay too much attention on these occasions. This president sounds just fine if you'll only put your mind in idle. What did G.K. Chesterton say about Times Square when he first glimpsed the Great White Way? "What a glorious garden of wonder this would be, to anyone who was lucky enough to be unable to read." Watching the presidential press conference Tuesday evening would have been an uplifting experience if only one weren't trying to make sense of what he was actually saying.


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.


 

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