The Campaign Spot

Speaking at Length, but Saying Almost Nothing

I think Barack Obama has been surprisingly respectful of President Bush during the transition, emphasizing that the country has only one president at a time.

But we’ve got at least two pressing national issues where the outgoing guy’s opinion is of only temporary value, and the incoming guy’s opinion is of considerably more value. And yet the Obama position is opaque.

For starters, does President-elect Obama want to bail out the auto industry or not? His answer, earlier this week:

Well, there are going to be hearings over the next two days, and I want to wait and see specifically what’s said during those hearings. I think Congress did the right thing. When the Big Three automakers came before them a couple of weeks ago, they were not offering a clear plan for viability over the long term.

And I think Congress was right to say that the taxpayers expect and deserve better than that before they are stepping up to the plate for any kind of bailout.

It appears, based on reports that we’ve seen, that this time out, the executives from these automakers are putting forward a more serious set of plans. I don’t want to comment on them before I’ve actually heard and seen what they’re putting forward, but I’m glad that they recognize the expectations of Congress — certainly, my expectations — that we should maintain a viable auto industry, but we should also make sure that any government assistance that’s provided is designed for a — is based on realistic assessments of what the auto market is going to be and a realistic plan for how we’re going to make these companies viable over the long term.

With respect to TARP versus 136 money, at this point, I’m more interested in seeing whether or not there’s a sound plan there. And then I’ll be in discussions and listening about where the best sources of money are. But I think it’s premature to get into that issue.

In a nutshell, “maybe, wait and see.” What would Obama need to see to deem it a “sound plan” or a “clear plan”? What does he consider “realistic assessments”?

Second, on the Mumbai Massacre:

Q Thank you, Mr. President-elect. Would India be justified in going after terrorists responsible for the Mumbai attacks if they were on Pakistani soil?

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to reiterate that our condolences, our thoughts and our prayers go out to the people of India, the families that have been affected; and obviously, we’re heart-broken by the deaths of the six Americans that were caught up in this tragedy.

I’ve spoken to Prime Minister Singh and expressed these concerns to him. An investigation is taking place. I was briefed by Secretary Rice throughout the weekend. She’s on her way to the region. We’ve sent FBI to help on the investigation. And I have — this is one of those times where I have to reiterate there’s one president at a time. We’re going to be engaged in some very delicate diplomacy in the next several days and weeks. So I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment.

But what I can say unequivocally is that both myself and the team that stands beside me are absolutely committed to eliminating the threat of terrorism, and that is true wherever it is found. We cannot have — we cannot tolerate a world in which innocents are being killed by extremists based on twisted ideologies. And we’re going to have to bring the full force of our power — not only military, but also diplomatic, economic and political — to deal with those threats, not only to keep America safe, but also to ensure that peace and prosperity can exist around the world.

So I will be monitoring the situation closely. Thus far, I think the administration has done what’s needed in trying to get the details of the situation. And my expectation is that President Zandari (sicZardari) of Pakistan, who has already said that he will fully cooperate with the investigation, will follow through with that commitment.

Again, the reticence is somewhat understandable – but if the fifth-deadliest terror attack in world history is going to alter the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, can we wait until January 21 to hear about it? Did this attack change Obama’s opinion of Pakistan? Does he think they really are an ally, or does he wonder if they’re playing both sides? It’s swell that Obama says his team will bring “the full force of our power” to deal with threats, but what does that mean in the context of tracking down those who (in some cases) tortured and killed six Americans, and slaughtered hundreds of Indians?

This puts me in the very odd position of agreeing with Barney Frank’s comment yesterday that “he’s going to have to be more assertive than he’s been.”

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