Though given a perfect opportunity to do so, Tom Brokaw on Sunday chose not to discuss the similarities between Franklin D. Roosevelt's refusal to work with President Herbert Hoover on solving the Depression before he was inaugurated in March 1933 and president-elect Barack Obama doing the same thing today with George W. Bush.
For those not familiar with the historical reference, the financial crisis at the time of the 1932 elections was so bad that banks were failing on almost a daily basis. As a result, Hoover felt the country couldn't wait until March when inaugurations used to take place to hear what Roosevelt's plan was to solve these problems, and wanted FDR and his economic team to come to the White House in order to work some things out together.
Sadly, Roosevelt refused, and although he claimed it was so that his hands wouldn't be tied once he officially became president, some historians feel FDR's delay was designed to allow the crisis to deepen so that it would become easier for him to get his policy proposals passed.
On Sunday's "Meet the Press," the fact that President Bush wants to work with Obama and his team concerning the financial crisis surfaced in discussion with former Reagan treasury secretary James Baker and former Clinton commerce secretary Bill Daley. Unfortunately, Brokaw chose not to address this seemingly-important historical comparison and precedent (video embedded below the fold, relevant section begins at 6:15, file photo):
JAMES BAKER: I think that a lot of what we're seeing out there today is a lack of confidence, and the president-elect and, as a matter of fact, the current president have to face this problem over the next 60 days. It's unfortunate that we're in this interregnum of a transition, but I think that something very useful might even come out of the two of them sitting down together and addressing not the, not the midterm, not the mid and long-term problem that we face that was the subject of the president-elect's speech, but the--but facing--but addressing stability of our financial system and to see if there isn't something that they could do jointly, together, over the next 58 to 60 days that would help us make sure that the--that the financial system is stabilized and, and secure. Because if that goes under, then this thing is even, believe it or not, going to get worse. And I think just the mere fact of their sitting down together and seeing if there's not one thing that they could come together on would do a lot to restore confidence and, and remove the anxiety and fear that's out there.
TOM BROKAW, HOST: Mr. Daley, I know there's some wariness on the part of your team about getting too close to the outgoing administration, taking ownership, in effect, of some of the policies that they believe that have failed. But isn't that a reasonable idea?
WILLIAM DALEY: Well, I think the--what you've seen is probably the, the best transition by, by President Bush of any administration outgoing. There has been great coordination, great discussions between President-elect Obama's team, the president-elect himself, and the secretary of Treasury and the, and the Fed. So there's a lot of interaction going on.
I, I agree with Secretary Baker that confidence is what's lacking. Senator Obama, in his address yesterday, put forward a very positive program. He is appreciative of President Bush's consultations with him, and they will continue that. No question, this 60-day period is, in, in some ways, is an opportunity to get a team together, get a plan together to act. We only have one president during that period, but there is great consultation going on. And, and, and all the major decisions that this, this administration is moving on, they are consulting. And as President-elect Obama's team gets put together, starting tomorrow, they'll be a greater opportunity for--to work even closer.
MR. BROKAW: You've walked all the way around the simple question, however.
MR. DALEY: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: Secretary Baker...
MR. BAKER: Tom, Tom, I agree.
MR. BROKAW: Anyway, secretary...
MR. BAKER: I agree. I agree 100 percent. We can only have one president at a time, but nothing would do more to create confidence and, and eliminate the fear and anxiety that's out there, particularly in the finance--in financial markets, than to see the incoming president and the outgoing president get together on a--on some sort of a proposal or, or program over the short term. I'm not talking about the, the mid, the mid-term or, or long-term correction of the economy, but something that would do a little more perhaps to make sure that our, that our banks don't continue to slide down and, and that would stabilize our financial system, which is critical.
MR. BROKAW: So if the--President-elect Obama came to you and said, "Bill, what do you think? Should I go meet at the White House if we have sherpas in advance work something out?" Do you think that that's a...
MR. DALEY: I, I, I don't think there's a, a meeting that's going to give the confidence that Jim is talking about. I think what's going to take place is you're going to have the confidence by the actions of this administration in consultation with the president-elect, in--and then President-elect Obama, as he has done, telling his team, "Quickly, in 60 days, put together a plan that we can pass, even before I become president." That's the sort of aggressive leadership that I think President Obama's going to give. And I think the markets, as shown by Friday's action, maybe, indicate that there is some belief that, as his team gets appointed and they then develop a plan, that we're going to begin to see some confidence come back into the--and there, this is a difficult period, no doubt about it, in this transition period, but the administration is also, as I understand it from press reports, moving very quickly to possibly even change the plans that they've put forward at this point.
MR. BAKER: The appointment...
MR. BROKAW: Here, here is part of the problem as I see it.
MR. BAKER: The appointment of the team...
MR. BROKAW: Go ahead.
MR. BAKER: Tom, the appointment of the team did, the appointment of the team did, did stabilize things for a day or so, and Bill's quite right about that. And then when it's formally announced Monday, it may do so again. But I'm not sure that it's going to be enough to, to, to stop the problem. And, and, boy, nothing would do more. And, and the president-elect would not have to take ownership. This would be a joint program, and it would only--it would be limited to trying to do further stabilization of the financial system only.
Exactly. Seems to make a lot of sense, doesn't it? And, as Brokaw appeared to agree with Baker, this could have been the perfect opportunity to bring up the FDR-Hoover precedent, and ask Daley whether Obama's reticence to work with Bush before inauguration day was because he and his team were secretly hoping the crisis worsens.
The absence of such a discussion was made even more absurd by the recent comments of Obama's future chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as my colleague Seton Motley reported Friday:
"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
Was Brokaw ignorant of this precedent, and Emanuel's statements, or just looking to protect both Obama and FDR from such scrutiny?
That question seemed even more important as the panel discussion ensued in a later segment, and nobody else was interested in bringing up the FDR-Hoover precedent:
BROKAW: Chuck Todd, we heard former Secretary of the Treasury Jim Baker, former secretary of state, a wise man in the Republican Party, announce today that he thinks that Barack Obama and President Bush should get together before the inauguration with some kind of a symbolic act to try to shore up confidence in this country.
CHUCK TODD, NBC: Well, it's interesting, and, and what I'll be curious to see is what Republicans will jump on that bandwagon and say let's do something. And maybe the symbolic act is what you asked him about in particular, asked Bill Daley about it, about getting Timothy Geithner in place now. You know, don't wait until January 20th. What's been interesting about watching Barack Obama during this transition is he wanted to hold off on, on doing this economic team.
There was a lot of, of sort of, of political advice he was getting: "Hold off, don't take, don't take control of this economy just yet. Don't..." And yet, a lot of Wall Street folks got to him and said, "No, get on this now. Hurry up and inspire confidence." What Baker outlined, I could absolutely see in the next couple weeks influencing Obama and saying, "You know what? Maybe I will sign on to something."
Might have been another opportunity to bring up the FDR-Hoover precedent, and whether or not the political advice Todd said Obama was receiving was indeed to follow this model and allow the crisis to deepen.
Sadly, not only didn't it go in this direction, but another panelist actually chided Baker for making such a bipartisan suggestion:
MR. BROKAW: Good idea, Gene Robinson?
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I, I think it's a good idea. I--but I think it was extraordinary to hear Jim Baker, the, the Republican eminence grise, essentially call on George Bush to, to share power, Republican president to, to effectively step down early and, and hand over the reins to the president-elect as a way of, of reassuring the, the market and the economy.
MR. BROKAW: I'm not sure he was going quite that far, but.
MR. ROBINSON: Well, well, but almost. And, you know, the--I mean, he is still president.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. ROBINSON: And, and as, as Bill Daley was saying, George, George Bush--there are things he can do now, yet he does not have the credibility in the market, or I think in the, in the, in the country to, to get--to bring about that sort of confidence right now.
Well, maybe he doesn't, which presents a perfect opportunity for the president-elect and his team to participate in joint meetings with Bush in order "to bring about that sort of confidence right now."
Unfortunately, nobody wanted discuss whether Obama and his team actually want such confidence to emerge yet, or if they're emulating FDR and secretly hoping the crisis worsens.
I wonder why.