Budget Hawker

By Dana Milbank
Friday, April 10, 2009

I just lost another loan to Obama!

When last we heard from the salesman in chief 10 days ago, he was pitching General Motors and Chrysler cars so aggressively that he did everything but offer to rotate every American's tires. Now, it seems, he's moonlighting for LendingTree.com.

Thursday morning's commercial was set in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where the president was joined by happy homeowners. "Here's the good news," he announced. "Rates are as low as they've been since 1971."

As a result of such fabulous deals, he went on, "everybody here represents families who have saved hundreds of dollars a month, thousands of dollars a year in some cases -- and that's money directly in their pocket."

So how can you, sitting at home, join these satisfied customers?

Easy. "If you are having problems with your mortgage, and even if you're not and you just want to save some money," the president announced, "you can go to MakingHomeAffordable.gov -- MakingHomeAffordable.gov -- and the way the Web site is designed, you can plug in your information and immediately find out whether or not you are potentially eligible."

Sounds great! Can we have that Web site one more time, Mr. President? "Again, the Web site is MakingHomeAffordable.gov -- is that right? MakingHomeAffordable.gov -- so get on the Web site, find out what's available."

Every salesman knows repetition is key to closing the deal, so Obama repeated the name of the site again, for a total of five times in his five-minute pitch. "So take advantage of MakingHomeAffordable.gov, and that will allow you to figure out exactly how to proceed on this in a way that's making you money, saving you money, as opposed to costing you money."

Because when lenders compete, you win!

Seeing as Obama is the commander in chief and all, it seemed advisable to do as he (repeatedly) said and check out MakingHomeAffordable.gov. There, one finds a slick Web site looking very much like private mortgage refinancing sites: a logo with houses and the "Help for America's Homeowners" slogan, a "Homeowner's Hope Hotline" (888-995-HOPE), a picture of a woman and child on a playground, and "self-assessment tools" to "see if you are among the 7 to 9 million homeowners who may be able to benefit from Making Home Affordable."

Only in small print at the bottom does the visitor see mention of the Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Click on the "Audio and Video" menu and you'll find "Weekly Address: Toward a Better Day" -- a link to the White House Web site and one of Obama's Saturday radio addresses from last month.

This presidential marketing approach doesn't have quite the dignity of an FDR fireside chat, but it is, undeniably, very 21st century. And, for better or worse, it seems to have become a regular part of the presidential oeuvre.

Last week, as he announced the latest twist in the auto bailout, Obama offered to stand by Chrysler and GM warranties. "If you buy a car from Chrysler, you will be able to get your car serviced and repaired, just like always," he promised. "Your warranty will be safe. In fact, it will be safer than it's ever been, because starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warranty."

He offered that "if you buy a car anytime this year, you may be able to deduct the cost of any sales and excise taxes," and he proposed a "generous credit to consumers who turn in old, less fuel-efficient cars." Specifically, he recommended the Chevy Malibu -- "in 2008, the North American Car of the Year was a GM" -- and Buick -- "tied for first place as the most reliable car in the world."

Now he's back from a week-long overseas trip and, given time to reflect on the matter, the president has decided he really wants to offer you a great refinancing deal.

"The essence of the American dream is owning your own home, being able to have that piece of property that is yours," he began Thursday.

Call now to receive a free no-obligation rate quote!

"Around the table here you see some wonderful families who have taken advantage of what are now historically low mortgage rates," he said, turning to his contented customers.

Call today or apply online!

"As a consequence of us being able to reduce the interest rates that are available, we have now seen some extraordinary jumps in the rate of mortgage refinancings," the president boasted.

You can be preapproved in minutes!

Three times, he talked about money in pockets, as in: "There are 7 to 9 million people across the country who right now could be taking advantage of lower mortgage rates. That is money in their pocket."

Low closing costs!

"We estimate that the average family can get anywhere from $1,600 to $2,000 a year in savings by taking advantage of these various mortgage programs that have been put in place."

But better hurry! "Rates on 30-year mortgages have dropped to an all-time low of 4.78 percent."

And, whatever else you do: Don't trust anybody other than Obama for your mortgage refinancing needs. "I just want everybody who is watching today to know," the president said into the camera, "that if somebody is asking you for money up front before they help you with your refinancing, it's probably a scam."

Barack Obama: Your First Choice in Home Loans.

Dana Milbank will be online to chat with readers at noon Monday. Submit your questions before or during the discussion.

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