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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2009
INTRODUCING MEG WHITMAN - AT 8:23 P.M. ET: Andrew Malcolm runs the superlative Top of The Ticket blog for the Los Angeles Times. It's among the best political blogs around, and is listed as one of our "sizzling sites" in the left-hand column.
Today Andrew introduces us to Meg Whitman, who apparently wants to succeed Aah-nold as governor of California. One of my gripes about current journalism is the failure to provide solid, complete biographies of news figures. There are even gaps in President Obama's biography that have yet to be filled. And, of course, we've all seen some intellectual fashion plates described by the press as "anti-war" activists or "peace activists," only to learn later that they had 40-year records in some of the darker swamps of radical politics, with not a hint of it in their media descriptions.
Andrew shows us how it's done - basic information, clearly presented in sufficient detail, about someone who wants to run our largest state. She's impressive. Well worth reading.
THE SHADY BUNCH - AT 7:38 P.M. ET: Fox News did a devastating report this evening on some of the Obama administration's new Justice Department appointees, the ones right below the level of attorney general. One is best known for defending pornographers. Another defended Osama bin Laden's driver. Another wanted to bar military recruiters from the Harvard campus. And a fourth was instrumental in cutting off food and water to Terri Schiavo, in Florida, in the now-famous right-to-life case.
COMMENT: You really have to wonder how they managed to put this team together. It is a feast for the left, a nightmare for the rest of us. I get the sense - and this is just informed speculation - that the Obama team has carved up the government and given several areas to its leftist base. One is the Justice Department, the other is the energy/environmental sector. We'll just have to be on guard every moment. When we realize that Justice is the front-line department in the fight against domestic terror and crime, and that the Energy Department is in charge of our nuclear weapons, we have reason to stay awake at nights, and not simply because we want to read novels.
DEMOCRACY NOW! - AT 5:54 P.M. ET: My Iranian activist friend Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi alerts us to the happy, delightful celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran. The hoopla! The music! The joy! From The Times of London:
Iran’s former president was set upon by an angry stick-wielding mob today amid celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on the streets of Tehran.
The attack on Mohammed Khatami came just two days after the reformist cleric announced he would be running against the hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June's presidential elections.
Mr Khatami, then a little known cleric, came to global attention when he was elected to the presidency in 1997, capturing almost 70 per cent of the vote. Succeeded in 2005 by Mr Ahmadinejad, he blamed hardline elements in the clerical establishment for obstructing his reformist agenda.
During the revolutionary celebrations, attackers waving sticks approached the cleric, shouting “Death to Khatami. We do not want American government.”
COMMENT: And the fact is, as Banafsheh points out, that Khatami is no great reformer. He's actually a hard-liner with a bit more velvet over his beheading knife. He also encouraged and continued the Iranian nuclear program. Welcome to the new era in relations with Iran.
TWO HEADLINES - AT 5:46 P.M. ET: Two headlines from today's Washington Post online edition:
Dow Tumbles 382 Points on Bank Bailout Plan
First Lady Gets Vogue Cover
Is there a values disconnect here somewhere?
DOW CLOSE - AT 4:08 P.M. ET: Preliminary figures show that the Dow closed down 382, to 7889.
THE DOW NOW - AT 3:43 P.M. ET: The Dow is down 408, to 7862. This is not funny. If it reflects the confidence of the financial markets in the Obama administration, we may need a lot more than a stimulus package.
BULLETIN AT 3:35 P.M. ET: First exit polls give the centrist Kadima party a slight edge in Israel's elections. However, the party's leader, Zippi Livni, may not be able to form a government because of opposition to her from the right. She was given the chance to form a coalition in the fall and failed, leading to this election. Stand by.
SHE SPEAKS - AT 3:07 P.M. ET: Hillary Clinton lives. She speaks:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday a final decision on deployment of a missile shield in eastern and central Europe hinged in part on Iran's willingness to curb its nuclear ambitions.
"This is one of those issues that really will rest with the decisions made by the Iranian government," Clinton said of plans to install radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland to shield against ballistic missiles fired by "rogue" countries like Iran.
"If we are able to see a change in behavior on the part of the Iranians with respect to what we believe to be their pursuit of nuclear weapons, then we will reconsider where we stand," she told reporters after meeting Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
COMMENT: Again, the key is in the details, whether or not the policy is carried out wisely, and whether it is undercut by certain elements in the Obama White House. However, this could be a shrewd move - putting the onus on Iran, hoping Russia will join us in pressuring that country to get rid of its missiles and its nuclear program. It's probably a pipe dream, but it's a lot better than caving in to the "negotiations above all" crowd.
YOW DOW - AT 2:45 P.M. ET: The Dow is down 359, to 7912.
SAILING TO NOWHERE - AT 2:40 P.M. ET: From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON – The Senate voted on Tuesday to approve an $838 billion economic stimulus plan that stands to become the most expansive anti-recession effort by the United States government since World War II.
Congressional leaders said they would immediately begin to work out the differences between the Senate measure and an $820 billion version passed by the House, with President Obama also likely to have a strong voice in the talks.
COMMENT: And still, we're not really sure what's in this bill. Change we can believe in? This is change we can't even understand.
DOW NOT WOW - AT 11:55 A.M. ET: The Dow is down 312, to 7958. Not a great review for the administration's fiscal plans.
Posted at 9:57 a.m. ET
When a Hollywood writer sits down to try to sell a new movie or TV show to a producer, it's called "the pitch." I've been there many times. The idea is to get the producer to commit to the next stage, known as a "development deal," where someone writes a check so you can develop the idea while not starving. When you're doing the pitch you may know, or may not know, what you're going to do if you ever reach that next stage. Some have gotten a development deal and realized they had nothing to develop.
I had that impression in listening to the president last night. Mr. Obama speaks beautifully. We know that. He has an active mind. We know that, too. And he looks good. Women tell me that.
But I felt too often that I was listening to a pitch, and that the pitchman had no idea what he would do if we gave him the deal. The strategy here, if there is one, is to follow what congressional Democrats have done, surrender to them, and put on a happy face. I had no sense that the president had thought through the next stage. Neither did I have a sense that he'd know what to do if the stimulus package passed and failed. Like a good pitchman, the president had his talking points in order, but little else.
The press questions were fair, some rather good, and none threw Mr. Obama off. However, like so much in the president's recent verbal arsenal, the weaponry failed to conquer. Maybe we've already begun to be skeptical. Or maybe the American people know, instinctively, the difference between campaign rhetoric and the language of governing. I can't imagine any of the masses rushing to the barricades after last night's presentation.
The emperor does have clothes. But I think he's begun a bit of a strip-tease.
February 10, 2009. Permalink
INCREDIBLE - AT 9:34 A.M. ET: From the DC Examiner, via reader Ken Braithwaite:
* ACORN could receive up to $4 billion under the economic stimulus legislation approved by the House of Representatives.
* ACORN has received an estimated $53 million in government funds since its founding in 1970.
* ACORN is under investigation in at least 14 states in connection with allegations of voter registration fraud in the 2008 campaign.
ACORN claims to represent low-income workers but does not pay its own employees the minimum wage and in 1995 sued California for an exemption from its minimum wage requirement.
A multi-million dollar liberal non-profit activist conglomerate reportedly under federal investigation may get a big piece of the economic recovery stimulus pie now under consideration by Congress.
It’s the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now – the infamous ACORN.
COMMENT: Phone your congressional offices. This is an outrage.
QUOTE OF THE DAY, THUS FAR - AT 9:18 A.M. ET: From the great Thomas Sowell, writing at Townhall.com:
Elementary as it may seem that we should hear both sides of an issue before making up our minds, that is seldom what happens on politically correct issues today in our schools and colleges. The biggest argument of the left is that there is no argument-- whether the issue is global warming, "open space" laws or whatever.
Some students may even imagine that they have already heard the other side because their teachers may have given them their version of other people's arguments or motives.
But a jury would never be impressed by having the prosecution tell them what the defendant's defense is. They would want to hear the defense attorney present that case.
COMMENT: Well said. But try to convince an anthropologist at Berkeley.
THE AFGHAN DILEMMA - AT 8:41 A.M. ET: Afghanistan is increasingly in the news. Can we win there? Should we pull off another surge? Urgent Agenda has an independent source, an American traveler with detailed knowledge of the region, who tells us the following:
Karzai is in an impossible position. There is nothing he could have done to change the realities here...a wartorn "country" with no history or memory of nationhood, no real economic prospects other than a pervasive and corrupting drug industry, a backward, illiterate, and primitive population that is divided into tribes to which they are fiercely loyal. He is surrounded by rivals and power brokers and nations who do not care what happens to "Afghanistan" as longs they get theirs. It is a miracle he has lasted so long.
Only his counterpart in some twenty, thirty years hence has any chance of presiding over stability, but it will likely be some rump-state of what is Afghanistan today. The current borders encompass too much conflict, too many rivals, too many irreconcilable interests.
Obama has to make a choice...am I willing to be here for the long haul and endure the slings and arrows that Bush did at the nadir of the Iraqi effort? Or shall we narrow our aims dramatically and beat a hasty retreat? I don't envy him his decision....it's an impossible situation.
COMMENT: Please note that there is a world of difference between this analysis and the "cut and run" ruminations of the political left. There are people who think we "can't" win because they think we never should win. Avoid at all costs.
FOLLOW THE MONEY; IT ALWAYS LEADS TO THE SAME PLACE - AT 8:36 A.M. ET: From an excellent, exclusive report in the conservative Washington Times:
Wall Street executives have pleaded economic ruin, secured hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer assistance and been pilloried for their business excesses. But none of that has curbed their appetite for doling out political donations - or the willingness of politicians to accept the largesse.
A Washington Times analysis found that executives and employee-funded political action committees of banking companies that received bailout money have donated more than $2 million to members of Congress and other politicians since lawmakers approved the federal rescue of America's financial system in October.
COMMENT: Business in Washington is always business as usual. While there are no doubt some visionaries trying to improve the system, there are many others, on Wall Street and elsewhere, including inside the headquarters of labor unions, who are simply inventing new ways to engage in the same excesses again, but not get caught at it next time.
OH, AND THEN THERE'S THE BILL FOR THIS - AT 8:13 A.M. ET: From The Washington Post:
The gravity of the financial crisis confronting the Obama administration will come into stark focus today when officials unveil a three-pronged rescue program that may commit up to $1.5 trillion in public and private funds, and possibly more, lawmakers and other officials said.
COMMENT: Read the fine print here. In fact, call in the electron microscope and read the very fine print. This is the program for the financial sector. There'll be no new requests to Congress for more money...now. "Now" may be the most expensive word in the current economic debate. This program is in addition to the "stimulus" package. So far, there's been stunningly little transparency in the financial-sector aid program run from Washington. We'll be watching to see if this changes, or if the money boys wield their usual influence in the capital to prevent any snooping around by journalists and regulators.
THE TIMES BEHIND THE TIMES - AT 7:42 A.M. For an example of obsolete economic thinking, consider this quote from this morning's New York Times editorial:
Aid to states is excellent stimulus because the money is funneled quickly to public employees, private contractors and beneficiaries of public programs. The Senate bill falls far short. It provides $40 billion less to the states than the House’s version — money that is mainly targeted at education budgets.
COMMENT: How is money funneled to public employees stimulative? Also, when will The Times finally abandon the 1960s cliché that education in America is constantly short of funds? Education in many areas of the country is actually overfunded. The scandal is what's done with the money. Pouring good money into bad for education programs that fail to educate is policy at its worst.
ISRAEL VOTES - AT 7:31 A.M. ET: Israel votes today, in an election that can have a significant impact on the "peace" process and on the country's relationship with the Obama administration. Early report:
Voter turnout in Israel's general election Tuesday was heavier than expected, standing at 23.4 percent of the electorate by midday.
In contrast, only 21.7 percent of voters had cast ballots by the same point during the last election in 2006. If the voter turnout remains constant throughout the day, the final rate could reach 69 percent, as opposed to 63.5 percent in the 2006 vote.
COMMENT: Once the election is held, the candidate at the top will be given a certain number of days to form a coalition government, one of the great ballets in modern democratic politics.
ON THE ONE HAND, ON THE OTHER HAND - AT 7:16 A.M. ET: The esteemed maximum leader of Iran offers Mr. Obama an olive branch, with intensely sharpened thorns. Responding to the administration's offer of talks, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giveth, and taketh away:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday the world was entering a "new era of dialogue" and his country would welcome talks based on mutual respect with the United States, its longtime adversary.
And here comes the astirisk:
"If you really want to fight terrorism, come and cooperate with the Iranian nation, which is the biggest victim of terrorism, so that terrorism is eliminated. ... If you want to confront nuclear weapons ... you need to stand beside Iran so it can introduce a correct path to you," he said.
COMMENT: In other words, no change from previous position. It's okay to talk, as long as we Iranians do the talking.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2009
BEYOND SICK - AT 6:21 P.M. ET: From AFP:
WASHINGTON (AP) - The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is proposing a "truth commission" to investigate abuses of detainees, politically inspired moves at the Justice Department, and whole range of decisions made during the Bush administration.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the primary goal of the commission would be to learn the truth rather than prosecute former officials, but said the inquiry should reach far beyond misdeeds at the Justice Department under Bush to include matters of Iraq prewar intelligence and the Defense Department.
Leahy outlined his suggestion for a "truth and reconciliation" commission during a speech at Georgetown University Monday.
"I'm doing this not to humiliate people or punish people but to get the truth out," he said.
The panel he envisions would be modeled after one that investigated the apartheid regime in South Africa. It would have subpoena power but would not bring criminal charges, he said.
COMMENT: This is just vulgar. Comparing President Bush's administration, which protected America at home and expanded democracy abroad, to apartheid South Africa, shows just how warped the left wing of the Democratic Party has become. You would think we were never attacked on 9-11. But in the minds of these people, we never were. We were simply punished for our own misdeeds.
THEY NEVER ASKED ME - AT 4:49 P.M. ET: Real Clear Politics is now posting regular surveys on presidential job approval. Today's post shows CNN giving Mr. Obama a 76% approval rating.
The closest is Pew Research and Gallup at 64%. CBS is at 62, Rasmussen at 61.
Given the love fest I see at CNN (note our 3:42 p.m. post, below), maybe some of the love is being felt by the pollsters.
ERIC HOLDER, WHAT DO YOU SAY? - AT 4:10 P.M. ET: Reader Jim Meyer alerts us to this. From The Washington Times:
An Arizona man who has waged a 10-year campaign to stop a flood of illegal immigrants from crossing his property is being sued by 16 Mexican nationals who accuse him of conspiring to violate their civil rights when he stopped them at gunpoint on his ranch on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Roger Barnett, 64, began rounding up illegal immigrants in 1998 and turning them over to the U.S. Border Patrol, he said, after they destroyed his property, killed his calves and broke into his home.
COMMENT: Maybe someone should ask our new attorney general for his legal opinion on the case. Don't hold your breath.
NO, IT'S PRESIDENT, NOT ROCK STAR - AT 3:42 P.M. ET:
I was monitoring the TV news outlets a while ago, as I do every day, and saw a remarkable contrast. This is what I saw:
On CNN the anchorwoman and a reporter were doing a gaga report on the president's impending visit to Fort Meyer, Florida, breathlessly telling us how people have been sleeping in line for days just to get tickets to his town-hall meeting. Replace Obama with the name of some rap guy and the report could have been run word for word.
I clicked over to CSPAN, and Senator John McCain, the man who should have won, was giving the most thoughtful speech on the stimulus package. He was asking why an amendment that would have reduced spending in the package if the economy improved was voted down. He concluded that this package will now mandate permanent spending, a catastrophe for our children and grandchildren, who will pay the bill.
Many more people saw the breathless CNN reporters than saw Senator McCain. That's the regrettable thing here.
THE FINE PRINT - AT 3:26 P.M. ET:
Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC may have to be forced into bankruptcy by the U.S. government to assure repayment of $17.4 billion in federal bailout loans, a course of action the automakers claim would destroy them.
U.S. taxpayers currently take a backseat to prior creditors, including Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., according to loan agreements posted on the U.S. Treasury’s Web site. The government has hired a law firm to help establish its place at the front of the line for repayment, two people involved in the work said last week.
COMMENT: This is a ticking bomb. Watch it carefully. This is what happens when companies have to depend on the government.
Posted at 10:04 a.m. ET
I recall speaking with my mother on the day of the Challenger disaster in 1986. It was January 28th, and President Reagan was scheduled to make his State of the Union address that evening. Would the president deliver the speech, or cancel? My mother said, "He knows what to do." My mother was a lifelong FDR Democrat. I don't think she ever voted for a Republican. But I will always remember the confidence in her voice as she said of Reagan, "He knows what to do."
That is trust.
It is the greatest mantle a president can wear. The American people must trust their president. They are willing to forgive all manner of policy differences, as they did with Reagan, as long as they trust him to do the right thing in a crisis, and believe that he has the competence, character, and emotional stability to do it.
That is why I am growing so concerned about President Obama. Do you get the sense that something is wrong? Do you sense that it extends beyond policy and goes to the character and essence of the man? Are you getting the feeling, in these first tests of his presidency, that he is weak and indecisive? That he wanted to be president simply to be president? That he cannot - and this is terribly important - stand up under pressure? Do you sometimes fear that, underneath the cool, there's a tumultuous, angry man?
The president's first days have not been good. He seems to lack that style of leadership that came so naturally to Ronald Reagan and to others who filled the office of president, who defined it. Whatever agenda Obama may have had on inauguration day seems to have been cast aside by his own party's congressional leadership, with virtually no protest from the White House. Whatever foreign policy plans he dreamed of seem to have been dismissed already by other nations. He has failed to seize the moment. Multitudes who expected to be set on fire have felt nothing but a mildly warm glow. Is this the president, or is it simply Barack Obama, the fine speaker who talked his way past the interview and got the job?
He has not yet faced his first foreign crisis. Based on what we've seen so far, I dread the moment.
February 9, 2009. Permalink
TEST FOR OBAMA
Posted at 8:58 a.m. ET
One of the main arguments used by John F. Kennedy in his 1960 campaign was that there was a "missile gap" separating the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and that we were at the wrong end of it. It later turned out not to be true, but it certainly was effective during the campaign in placing Kennedy squarely in the hawk camp.
Not so with Barack Obama, and here again the issue is missiles. During his campaign Obama raised questions about America's missile-defense program, and he certainly wasn't suggesting that it be strengthened. Now he must face the issue as president, and the Wall Street Journal is not encouraged by the signs thus far:
Iran's launch last week of a satellite using a homegrown rocket is another reminder of why Europe needs a missile defense -- and needs to start building it now. Combine Iran's improving missile technology with its nuclear aspirations, and it's a lethal mix. This is especially timely given the debate inside the Obama Administration over whether to walk away from the U.S. promise to provide a defense shield for our European allies.
The term "walk away" is not meant as a compliment. The Journal notes Iran's progress in missile and nuclear technology.
That's why the Bush Administration pushed forward with a Europe-wide missile defense system to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic and built over the next six years. It's also why every NATO country has endorsed the U.S.-led effort...
...The question now is whether the Obama Administration will stand by its predecessor's promise or, as is widely anticipated, suspend the European program. On the campaign trail, Barack Obama suggested missile defense was either ineffective or too expensive, or both.
What if we suspended the program?
Suspending the program would have serious consequences. It would send a signal of American weakness to Iran, which the Obama Administration says it wishes to engage. If the mullahs watch the U.S. back down on confronting its missile threat, who could blame them for assuming it will also back down over its nuclear aspirations?
That is absolutely correct. Enemies might not have to do much to the West if we do it to ourselves.
A suspension would also send a message of American irresolution to Russia, which opposes deploying the antimissile system in countries it considers part of its sphere of influence.
Hillary Clinton's State Department may hope to get more Russian cooperation against Iran in return for disavowing its commitment to Europe. But that's not worth the message it sends about the U.S. willingness to cave in the face of Russian intimidation. Russia may be prepared to cooperate on a modest scale on Iran -- but only if the U.S. forgoes the defense of Europe. That's no bargain.
It's not even close to a bargain.
The biggest fallout of a suspension would be among America's allies in Europe. Poland and the Czech Republic agreed at some political risk to host missile interceptors and a radar. If the U.S. reneges now, these newly free countries will have reason to doubt that they can trust any U.S. security commitments. Other NATO nations are also watching to see if the U.S. will remain a reliable partner against Russia.
There used to be a cynical saying that held that the worst thing you can be in this world is a friend of the United States...that we too often undercut our friends. We hope that saying doesn't make a comeback.
Friend and foe alike are trying to take the measure of Mr. Obama, and to test him. Mr. Obama made the nurturing of U.S. alliances a major campaign theme, and, along with trade, the missile defense pact with Europe is the first test of whether he meant it.
We'll watch and report.
February 9, 2009. Permalink
QUOTE OF THE DAY, THUS FAR - AT 8:04 A.M. From Michael Rubin, Weekly Standard, via Middle East Forum:
While the press paints George W. Bush as hostile to diplomacy and applauds the return of Bill Clinton's diplomatic team under his wife's leadership, it is ironic that the outgoing administration engaged Iran more than any U.S. presidency since Carter -- directing senior diplomats to hold more than two dozen meetings with their Iranian counterparts. Yet, after 30 years, Iran remains as intractable a problem as ever. Every new U.S. president has sought a new beginning with Iran, but whenever a president assumes the fault for our poor relationship lies with his predecessor more than with authorities in Tehran, the United States gets burned.
COMMENT: That's another quote that Mr. Obama should have taped to his Oval Office desk.
AMERICA'S YOUNG - AT 7:43 A.M. ET: We highly recommend an op-ed piece in today's New York Times by a Yale law graduate who went back to campus to teach. He reports:
I recently taught a course on the obligations of citizenship at Yale, where I also spent three years as a law student. If my university holds some prejudice against military service, its students, in my experience, don’t seem to.
The student-run Yale Political Union recently approved a resolution to invite R.O.T.C. back on campus. Several pro-military organizations have sprung up, including the Semper Fi Society, which helps undergraduates become Marine Corps officers.
COMMENT: Each generation of elders wonders how its young will do in moments of national emergency. This is an encouraging report. The battle is far from won on our generally leftist college campuses, but maybe we're securing a few beachheads.
HAMAS LOSING GROUND - AT 7:18 A.M. ET: A poll taken by a Palestinian survey group shows Hamas losing support among Palestinians. From The Jerusalem Post:
The poll, conducted by the Beit Sahour-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and published last week, also found that the popularity of Fatah among Palestinians now exceeds the popularity of Hamas, in contrast to a November 2008 poll conducted well before Israel's military operation.
Today, Hamas is supported by only 27.8% of the population in the Gaza Strip, compared to 51.5% in November, said Dr. Nabil Kukali, founder and general director of the PCPO.
Fatah's popularity in the Hamas-controlled coastal territory lies at 42.5%, compared to 31.4% in November.
COMMENT: Well, that's a bit of good news. Maybe some Palestinians are coming to their senses. Please remember that Israel votes tomorrow, and will soon have a new government. The intriguing question, though, is not Israeli or Palestinian policy, but American policy. The president's initial steps, having his first presidential interview with an Arab broadcaster, and groveling to the Muslim world during that session, give cause for concern.
P.R. IS NOT POLICY - AT 7:10 A.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will face a barrage of questions from ordinary Americans and skeptical reporters on his plans to reinvigorate the economy with a massive stimulus bill and additional billions in bailout money for the financial markets.
Two trips to cities hurting under the economic meltdown and a prime-time news conference are signs that Obama and his advisers are worried about a looming Senate vote on the stimulus bill, which failed to gather meaningful Republican support during rare weekend debate. The question-and-answer sessions will allow Obama to go directly to voters for grass-roots backing of his plans.
COMMENT: A classic patch job. Had the legislative work been done correctly in the first place, this magical sales tour wouldn't be necessary. The president lost control of the stimulus package and depended on the Democratic congressional leadership, whose public image is marginally better than Al Qaeda's. Key point: Will the "cool" president be able to keep his cool when questioned repeatedly?