Editor's note: Ed Rollins, who was political director for President Reagan, is a Republican strategist who was national chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.
Ed Rollins says Obama came off as likeable but didn't tell the American people the whole sad truth.
NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Obama had his first prime-time news conference Monday, and 60 million viewers tuned in.
They wanted to hear him and see him in action and hope that things weren't as bad as they were hearing every day from the media and in their hometowns.
He was glib, rambling, a little long-winded and very defensive. But he is a talent and very likeable even when he is being serious. And he had plenty to be serious about.
On numerous occasions, he made sure reporters and the millions tuning in knew that he had inherited a mess, the Republicans weren't helping him at all, and things were tough.
After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and traveling thousands of miles over the past two years running for this office, did he think he was going to get the big plane, the big house, the box at the Kennedy Center and Camp David without the heavy lifting? Well, maybe not this heavy a load.
This is a president who has promised transparency. He promised that we as a nation will know what our government is doing and what we are spending. Just go to the Internet, and it will be there. But not quite yet.
The president gave us a lot of rhetoric on Monday night.
Four million jobs will be created or saved, with 90 percent of them in the private sector. He didn't tell us how. Just trust me, and we will get you out of these tough times.
I know a president needs to be a cheerleader sometimes, but right now, I want a truth-teller.
He said, "at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs."
I ask, what resources does the federal government have? We are broke, too!
Real transparency would have been walking to the podium and saying, "Friends: This thing is a lot worse than I thought. Just like many of you, we are way over our budget. Some of you bought houses you couldn't afford. Many of you spent more money than you made and put the stuff you couldn't afford on your credit cards. The banks were irresponsible, and Wall Street was greedy, but I have to admit to you, the guys and gals over in the Congress have been spending at record rates, too. And they still have a bunch of pet projects they want to spend on, too. That's why this bill got bloated.
"And, oh, by the way, the $800 billion that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want to spend is money we don't have. The U.S. is broke just like you are, and the banks that I have to borrow from are thousands of miles away in China. We are going to spend $1 trillion-plus more than we take in this year in revenue, and next year it will be $2 trillion. That's on top of the $10.8 trillion that we owe in national debt.
"And if you don't think the banks have any money, the Federal Reserve is loaning them trillions."
But he could have closed out that depressing little litany by saying, "Together, we are going to get out of this thing!"
Obviously, our new president is still a stranger to us. We like him. Many trust him. We all hope he will succeed. But we don't know a lot about his management style or the people he picked as his team (except that a few of them didn't pay all their taxes.)
But in the world of politics, you seldom get a second chance to make a good impression.
The president's news conference was the beginning of the selling process. It was a fair performance, and by the end, the stimulus bill designed by Speaker Pelosi and Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey was owned by him.
The new Treasury secretary was the man who was supposed to lay out the plan to rescue the banks the next days. Secretary Tim Geithner's performance Tuesday was a disaster, and his plan was nonexistent. And the market tanked.
The Democrats will get their bill, and the president will sign it quickly. More money will have been committed in a shorter period of time than ever in our history.
It will be declared a great victory for the new team. And we and our kids will be paying for it for a long time. I hope it works, because there is no money to try again! We will quickly learn whether social engineering really works and whether all these Keynesians are right.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.
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