Sacrifice

SACRIFICE…. The strangest question from President Obama’s press conference last night came by way of NBC News’ Chuck Todd. Twelve hours later, I’m still not sure what he was thinking.

“Some have compared this financial crisis to a war, and in times of war, past presidents have called for some form of sacrifice. […]

“Why, given this new era of responsibility that you’re asking for, why haven’t you asked for something specific that the public should be sacrificing to participate in this economic recovery?”

When the president responded by pointing all of the many ways in which Americans are already sacrificing in the midst of an economic crisis, Todd wasn’t satisfied. In a follow up, the NBC White House correspondent asked why Obama has called on “specific” sacrifices from Americans. And again, the president explained, “[T]he American people are making a host of sacrifices in their individual lives.”

We seem to get this from the media establishment quite a bit lately. The Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl argued earlier this month that Obama isn’t calling on Americans to “sacrifice” enough. Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman recently said journalists at traditional news outlets would be more impressed with the president were it not for his “failure to call for genuine sacrifice on the part of all Americans.”

I suppose I know where these media figures are coming from. After 9/11, then-President Bush had an opportunity to call Americans to make genuine sacrifices. He could have urged more Americans to sign up for military service. He could have launched a drive to national volunteer initiative. He could have asked wealthy people who didn’t need a tax cut to give up tax breaks the nation couldn’t afford to help pay for two wars and renewed investment in domestic security. Instead, Bush urged the nation to shop.

But the problem with Chuck Todd’s question and the media’s general assumptions is the equating of the two crises. The questions are based on a faulty assumption — Bush faced a crisis and failed to call for sacrifices, so Obama, facing a crisis, should show more leadership.

Here’s the thing they’re missing: these are different kinds of crises. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, homes, savings, and health care. President Obama is trying to make things better for a nation that’s already sacrificed quite a bit. If he asks Americans to sacrifice more, it’s likely to make the economy even worse.

But the media seems to believe the president is going about this all wrong. Obama should ask us to sacrifice more during the crisis. The administration, out of some misguided notion of nobility, should make conditions even more difficult for Americans.

These assumptions are completely backwards — and more than a little bizarre.