President Obama Monday said in essence that Americans who disagree with his position that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic are not paying attention to the facts.
Asked at the White House press conference by Chip Reid of CBS about a CBS poll showing 69 percent of respondents oppose raising the debt limit, Obama bristled with condescension.
Saying he wanted to “distinguish between professional politicians and the public at large,” Obama asserted:
“The public is not paying close attention to the ins and outs of how a Treasury option goes” – referring to the Treasury bills and notes by which the United States finances its debt.
“They shouldn’t,” he added. “They’re worrying about their family; they’re worrying about their jobs; they’re worrying about their neighborhood. They’ve got a lot of other things on their plate. We’re paid to worry about it.”
Why, in a representative democracy, shouldn’t the public be paying attention to the most important economic issue facing the nation and the critical debate going on in Washington about how to handle it? And why should people trust those in the political class who are “paid to worry about it” instead of themselves?
In my years covering the White House, I’ve heard presidents respond to lots of polls, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard one say people don’t know what they’re talking about. The traditional Answer Of Presidents is, “I don’t pay attention to polls, I just do what’s best for The Republic,” which of course is not true, but at least it’s not insulting.
Obama’s effort to soften the comment with the suggestion that Americans have more parochial concerns to worry about amounts to encouraging voters to abandon their civic duty, at least when it comes to federal issues. It’s like applauding people for watching the string of murders and fires on local news instead of checking out shows about national affairs.
The irony is that Obama himself, through the grassroots nature of his 2008 campaign, has proven the power of turning people at the local level on to national issues.