He's "erratic," "out of touch," "angry," "losing his bearings"
No, I'm not describing the meltdown of President Obama since Scott Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate; those were actually the words used by the Obama campaign to describe the grumpy, ill-tempered John McCain, the Republican nominee during the bruising 2008 presidential campaign.
Who would have thought that over a year since the three presidential debates took place, McCain would look like the sensible sage; while Obama appears the one out of touch to the needs of mainstream America and at a loss on how to solve a ballooning budget deficit?
I take you to the first presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi on September 26, 2008, an event which took place on the heels of the financial crisis. Earlier that month (September 7, 2008), the federal government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which owned or guaranteed about half of the U.S.'s $12 trillion mortgage market
Moderator Jim Lehrer grilled both candidates to explain what they would do to solve the financial crisis.
Roll tape please!
OBAMA: "We've got to make sure that none of that money is going to pad CEO bank accounts or to promote golden parachutes.''
MCCAIN: "Let me point out, I also warned about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and warned about corporate greed and excess, and CEO pay, and all that. A lot of us saw this train wreck coming.''
MCCAIN: "Somehow we've lost that accountability. I've been heavily criticized because I called for the resignation of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. We've got to start also holding people accountable, and we've got to reward people who succeed.''
Later in the debate, Lehrer asks how this crisis will affect the country and what approach they will take if elected president.
Roll tape please!
MCCAIN: "Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It's completely out of control. It's gone -- we have now presided over the largest increase in the size of government since the Great Society.''
MCCAIN: "How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs.''
LEHRER: Spending freeze?
MCCAIN: I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veteran's national defense and several other vital issues.''
OBAMA: "The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are under funded. I went to increase early childhood education and the notion that we should freeze that when there may be, for example, this Medicare subsidy doesn't make sense.''
So as the Congressional Budget Office reports in its budget outlook released Tuesday that it projects the budget deficit to rise to a troubling $ 6 trillion in the next decade, a level considered unsustainable by many, while unemployment isn't expected to stabilize until 2014, maybe Mr. McCain's tough love prudence during the campaign wasn't as old-fashioned as many believed at the time.
It took a crushing defeat in Massachusetts, charges of pandering to Wall Street, a steep drop in public opinion polls, and a watered down health care bill, so watered down many have stopped caring -- before the administration realized they needed to change course immediately and reconnect with middle America and win back a large chunk of independent voters, many of whom have grown disillusioned with the administration's empty promises and bridge to nowhere rhetoric.
Before ripping a page out the McCain playbook, and announcing a three-year spending freeze on domestic discretionary spending (excluding defense and national security), President Obama proposed a new tax on some of the biggest banks, an announcement celebrated by many voters, who think Wall Street has been rewarded for reckless behavior under the present administration.
But when President Obama rolls out his new domestic policy during his State of the Union address on Wednesday in hopes of demonstrating fiscal responsibility to a skeptical public, the president will now have to contend with a new bloc of cynics: members of his own party, many of who have already think the president has abandoned them. "As much as I want to support the president, I have doubts'', Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee told ABC News, while Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): said her "first priority is creating jobs. I don't want a spending freeze on anything that is focused on jobs."
Even New York Times' columnist Bob Herbert questions what has become of Obama, the progressive candidate, who promised so much to the urban poor, the downtrodden and abandoned under previous administrations. The unofficial unemployment rate for blacks is 16.2 percent, Mr. Herbert points out, while citing a recent study which shows that college-educated black-men are twice as likely to be unemployed as their white (college-educated) counterparts.
Herbert writes: "Black Americans are going backward economically, and right now no one is stepping up to stop the retreat.''
While most keen observers of the swelling federal deficit applaud the president's spending freezes, many wonder if it could be extended to other programs, such as defense, homeland security and veterans, which, according to Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste are programs that can be reduced or terminated.
Despite being encouraged by Obama's spending freeze, Schatz still maintains the White House missed three golden opportunities to demonstrate fiscal discipline. "First, Shatz says, he [Obama] has not vetoed a single spending bill. "Second, he [Obama] blamed the earmarks in the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2009 that he signed last March on the prior administration. "Third, he [Obama] signed an omnibus appropriations bill in December that had an average 12 percent increase in spending for the six separate appropriations bills that were contained in the legislation, along with about 5,000 earmarks. ''
The Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget, meanwhile, posted a statement on its website, which cautions that Congress will need to widen their net to other programs and save appreciably more money if they hope to slice the debt to a more manageable level. "But at least, CRFB writes, the President is moving in the right direction.''
Unfortunately for the White House, it doesn't matter much if "The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget''' or "Citizens against Government Waste'', think the president is moving in the right direction.
In November, when midterm elections are to be held, voters, the ultimate judge, will let the administration know whether their party is moving in the right direction.
From now until November, President Obama and the Democratic Party might want to brush up on notes from John McCain's "Straight Talk Express'' handbook.