Being president means never having to say goodbye…

Once upon a time, American politics was the domain of stout-hearted, straight- talking men. Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death." William Tecumseh Sherman gave his name to statements that left no room for misinterpretation: "If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve." Harry Truman said "The buck ...

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Once upon a time, American politics was the domain of stout-hearted, straight- talking men. Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death." William Tecumseh Sherman gave his name to statements that left no room for misinterpretation: "If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve." Harry Truman said "The buck stops here." And then things started to get all weaselly

The Nixon era, the golden age of deception, gave us among other gems, the non-denial denial, a quintessentially Washington concept that has endured and evolved over the years, ultimately reaching its apotheosis with Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." 

Donald Rumsfeld became the Greg Louganis of obfuscation via convolution with his double triple inside out back flip of a statement: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

Once upon a time, American politics was the domain of stout-hearted, straight- talking men. Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death." William Tecumseh Sherman gave his name to statements that left no room for misinterpretation: "If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve." Harry Truman said "The buck stops here." And then things started to get all weaselly

The Nixon era, the golden age of deception, gave us among other gems, the non-denial denial, a quintessentially Washington concept that has endured and evolved over the years, ultimately reaching its apotheosis with Bill Clinton’s "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." 

Donald Rumsfeld became the Greg Louganis of obfuscation via convolution with his double triple inside out back flip of a statement: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know."

And now, we have, courtesy of President Barack Obama, the latest illustration of pol-speak: the non-supportive supportive statement. Yesterday, in response to a question about whether he planned any changes in his economic team, Obama said:

Well, look, I … I have not made any determinations about personnel. I think Larry Summers and Tim Geithner have done an outstanding job, as have my whole economic team. This is tough, the work that they do. They’ve been at it for two years. And, you know, they’re going to have a whole range of decisions about family that’ll factor into this as well. But the bottom line is — is that we’re constantly thinking, is what we’re doing working as well as it could? Do we have other options and other alternatives that we can explore?"

Yes. We know that whole range of decisions about family. It’s so thoughtful of you to think of their families, Mr. President.

That’s Washington, folks. One minute the words feel like an embrace and the next that crunching sound you hear is coming from your own bones under the wheels of the bus beneath which you have been deposited. By your boss. The president.

Naturally, the White House quickly denied that any changes were being planned. But, ask yourself, if your boss got on national television and said he hadn’t made any decisions about whether you would keep your job but that you really ought to start thinking about the family you haven’t been spending enough time with, how long would it take you to start loading up your G20 Finance Minister bobble head dolls and "World’s Greatest Economist" mugs into a cardboard box and heading for the exit?

There is a special term used in Washington for the kind of quick denial offered up by the White House press office. It refers to something somewhere between a lie and a frail fact wrapped in a mountain of bullshit. It’s called "business as usual." And if yesterday hadn’t been the day that The National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the recession ended back in June 2009, it would have been the hardest thing to believe said in Washington for, well, hours and hours.

But seriously…

Since I am already on the record saying that Obama should upgrade his economic team dramatically and that there are ways to do this that could continue to give him the benefit of the considerable gifts of both Geithner and Summers, let me turn briefly to one related subject. Please read the article entitled "Fearing a soaring deficit, many analysts favor letting Bush tax cuts expire" in today’s Washington Post. Count me among those analysts.  The benefits to the economy of letting the disastrous Bush tax cuts expire — in terms of very nearly eliminating the deficit, in terms of renewed faith of international investors in the United States, in terms of lower borrowing costs and on many other levels — outweigh the pinch Americans will feel from the re-imposition of the cuts. The president should demonstrate true leadership by letting them lapse. 

I fear that is not what will happen and that expediency and politics will result in the extension of all of them for another two years based on the specious argument that we can’t afford a tax hike right now in a fragile economy. That’s the opposite of the truth. We very clearly couldn’t afford the cuts in the first place and we can’t afford them now. 

Update: Good news for Larry Summers’s family? Here’s the latest on the economic team’s saga.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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