Bush Seeks to Calm the Nation, Warns That 'Anxiety Can Feed Anxiety'

President Bush speaks to the public about the government involvement in the economic crisis. Video by AP
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 11, 2008

President Bush yesterday urged Americans to remain calm and allow time for a rescue plan to stabilize financial markets, reflecting a renewed attempt by the White House to stave off panic in the face of the global economic meltdown.

In a Rose Garden statement bearing faint echoes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats during the Great Depression, Bush vowed that the nation would "come through this together" and warned that "uncertainty and fear" were contributing to the stock market collapse.

"This uncertainty has led to anxiety among our people," Bush said, referring to the loss of confidence that has virtually frozen credit markets and lending between banks. "And that is understandable. But anxiety can feed anxiety, and that can make it hard to see all that is being done to solve the problem."

Bush also pleaded for patience, saying it would take time for the administration to fully implement its week-old $700 billion financial rescue plan. "Fellow citizens, we can solve this crisis and we will," he said.

The president has made almost daily attempts over the past three weeks to calm markets or reassure Americans about the economy, with little apparent impact so far.

During a 15-minute prime-time address on Sept. 24, Bush warned that "the entire economy is in danger" while urging Congress to approve a rescue plan. Otherwise, he has stuck mostly to brief statements or remarks, often delivered during events unrelated to the financial crisis.

The president has often appeared drawn or grim and has taken only a few questions on the topic from reporters. Some of his remarks have appeared off the cuff, such as his declaration Thursday that "we're going to get through this deal."

Yesterday, amid calls for calm and resilience, Bush spent several minutes reciting a list of ongoing financial calamities and the administration's responses to them. He also outlined mortgage assistance programs available for distressed homeowners, and assured depositors that "your money is safe" because of a newly enacted increase in federal deposit insurance.

White House officials said Bush has sought to strike a balance during the crisis, offering encouragement when necessary while granting wide latitude to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and other key economic advisers. Press secretary Dana Perino characterized Bush's statement as "reassuring, realistic and pragmatic," and said the administration was seeking to be measured and responsible in its public comments.

"We're trying to strike the best possible balance that we can," Perino said. "President Bush recognizes that as the leader of this country, when Americans are facing probably more anxiety than they've ever felt in their lives, that it is important that they know that the leader of the free world has his full attention focused on helping solve this problem. That's the purpose of our communications."

But James A. Thurber, a presidential historian at American University, said Bush has failed to soothe the nation in a time of growing fear, comparing his remarks unfavorably with those of other presidents, including Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Thurber and other historians note that Bush is certainly capable of inspiration, exemplified by his post-9/11 speech at Ground Zero in New York.

"In some of his presentations, including his address to the nation, he's caused more fear than anything else," Thurber said. "He had a chance to turn that around and be presidential and bring a little more assurance in the public mind about where we're going with this thing. But he hasn't done that."

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