Despite calling for massive new spending on education, universal health care and more money for bailing out banks, no ABC anchor on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning used the word liberal in describing Barack Obama's February 24 address to Congress. In contrast, ABC host Terry Moran on February 27, 2001 anticipated that a similar speech by President George W. Bush would be "conservative." Following that address, he spun it as "hard core conservatism: fiscal restraint; deep, across-the-board spending and tax cuts; the privatization of part of Social Security."
And yet, on Tuesday's post-speech coverage, on that evening's "Nightline" and on Wednesday's "Good Morning America," no anchor applied the liberal label to Obama's address. The same Moran who saw "hard core conservatism" in Bush's appearance before Congress, described a "big and bold speech" from the current President. He also enthused that "President Barack Obama didn't sugarcoat it, he found bad guys on Wall Street and in Washington." Regarding the President's obviously liberal plans on the economy and health care, Moran reiterated, "The answer, the President argued, go big, big plans, big changes."
Regarding the new spending, the "Nightline" co-anchor stated, "With taxpayers already on the hook for more than a trillion dollars and the banks still staggering, the President said he will not let the financial system fail." He also extolled the "grand entrance" Obama made and cooed, "For a moment though, the splendor of American democracy on display."
The contrast between not labeling Obama's goals as liberal and calling Bush's speech "hard core conservatism" is even more stark when you consider that in the 2001 address, Bush advocated increased spending on entitlements.
Later on during "Nightline," George Stephanopoulos appeared and contended of the Republicans: "Basically, they're going to stand their ground, and stand their principles, oppose what the president is trying to do. They say he's spending too much money. That there's going to be too much waste." However, he, too, skipped the dreaded "L" word. (ABC's George Will also was featured just after the speech and made similar points.)
A transcript of Terry Moran's February 24 segment, which aired at 11:35pm, follows:
TERRY MORAN: Good evening, everyone. I'm Terry Moran. It was a big and bold speech by a new president facing deep challenges and huge expectations, delivered at a crucial moment when the country has been battered by talk of bailouts and the reality, the harsh reality of recession. And while President Barack Obama didn't sugarcoat it, he found bad guys on Wall Street and in Washington, he did try to strike an optimistic tone and a hopeful note that with patience and personal responsibility and by working together, the country can prevail and thrive.
OBAMA INTRODUCTION IN CONGRESS: The President of the United States!
MORAN: President Obama made his grand entrance into the House chamber and here too, he got mobbed. Mr Obama came to the capitol riding a honeymoon wave of popularity as a nation racked with economic anxieties looks for leadership. But he also faced a deeply divided Congress with Republicans so far almost united in opposition. For a moment though, the splendor of American democracy on display.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA Madam Speaker, Mr Vice President, members of Congress, the first lady of the United States-
MORAN: The preliminaries over, the President got right down to business- the recession.
OBAMA: You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy in crisis. Because you live it every day. It's a worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights.
MORAN: President Obama has been criticized for being too pessimistic, for talking down the economy. So right off the top tonight, he sounded a new confident theme.
OBAMA: We will rebuild. We will recover. And the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.
MORAN: His goal tonight was explanatory. Tell the country how we got here. How we'll get out.
OBAMA: We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet, we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of healthcare eats up more and more of our savings each year. Yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for.
MORAN: The answer, the President argued, go big, big plans, big changes.
OBAMA: Now is the time to act boldly and wisely. To not only revive this economy but to build the new foundation for lasting prosperity.
MORAN: He spoke to a Congress dominated by Democrats. This was the friendly crowd that passed his stimulus package. President Obama faced a huge challenge tonight. Explain his plan for the banks and get people to like it. With taxpayers already on the hook for more than a trillion dollars and the banks still staggering, the President said he will not let the financial system fail.
OBAMA: We will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times.
MORAN: But there is so much anger out there, anger at the banks and at Wall Street, anger that could undermine his plans and he recognizes it.
OBAMA: This time CEO's won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.
MORAN: The anger extends to the government too. To the system that's burdened the country with ballooning deficits and so much waste. And President Obama sought to tap into that anger too.
OBAMA: Everyone in this chamber, Democrats and Republicans, will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars and that includes me.
MORAN: There was hope in this speech. Hope in a grand Obama vision of a new energy future, a new healthcare future, a new education future for the country.
OBAMA: None of this will come without cost. Nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don't do what's easy. We do what's necessary to move this country forward.
MORAN: Mr Obama has sought bipartisan cooperation, but it was clear tonight a gulf still separates him from Republicans. Listen to their applause on this line.
OBAMA: There is of course another responsibility we have to our children. And that's the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. That is critical.
MORAN: But the President plowed on, unfazed, tweaking the Republicans for their fiscal stewardship.
OBAMA: With the deficit we inherited, the cost-
MORAN: And then as presidents do, he sought to rally all Americans with the stories of a few he'd invited to the capitol. Including a girl from South Carolina whose school is a shambles and who wrote the Congress and the president with a request for money to rebuild it.
OBAMA: The letter asks us for help. And says we are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president. So we can make a change not just in the state of South Carolina, but also the world. We are not quitters. That's what she said. We are not quitters.
MORAN: As he left the hall, the President seemed pleased with the night. The real question, however, is are you?