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Burr In The Saddle

Senator Richard Burr took a comical swipe at Barack Obama at a fundraiser in Wilmington, NC over the weekend, repeating the ditto-chamber accusation that the president is unable to speak coherently without a teleprompter--a charge that anyone with a television, a fourth-grade education, and a passing interest in politics has seen disproven innumerable times. As Matthew Yglesias notes, Burr also took the opportunity to boast that he, unlike our theoretically verbally challenged president, can speak extemporaneously without a teleprompter-- which is a dangerous boast to make when you're as inclined to say dumb things as Burr has proven himself to be.

According to TV station WWAY, Burr explained that "You can begin to see growth in this community, you see life, you see tourism back.... It's just a matter of time before this economy turns around and we see pricing stabilized and we forget about the economic downtime and we look forward to the opportunities."

I'm guessing that he meant "downturn" rather than "downtime," and isn't intentionally comparing the last several months to a vacation. More interesting, though, is the radical difference between this upbeat economic analysis and the dire (if characteristically confused) forecasts he was making in Hendersonville, NC just four days earlier:

I would tell you it’s not a recession. I would define this as a depression. A recession by definition is when you raise interest rates to slow growth. We are at a zero-interest-rate policy and have been. The world is at a zero-interest-rate policy, yet we continue to see the economy slide. We continue to see unemployment grow. We continue to see confidence wane not just here but around the world.

What accounts for his exponentially improved outlook just 96 hours later? Could it be that the Hendersonville appearance was also where Burr famously recounted his enthusiasm for bank runs in the early days of the economic crisis, an admission of selfishness and panic that has dogged him ever since? In the wake of that embarrassment, economic doomsdayism may not seem quite as appealing a political posture.

Indeed, Burr was still on the defensive during his appearance in Wilmington:

[T]he truth is I was trying to convey to people my frame of mind in the early days of the crisis. It was not an attempt to run on a bank. You can't do that on an ATM machine. The point was I was concerned enough about the architecture that even personally I wanted to do something. I've got a responsibility to do it as a profession, but personally I wanted to look after my family if that meant getting $500 at home, then I thought that was important.

So, in addition to his professional responsibilities, Burr felt a responsibility to have his wife take as much money out of the bank as possible on three consecutive (weekend) days, a plan that, had it been followed by many other Americans, would have resulted in massive cash shortages, economic panic, and a variety of other outcomes very much at odds with his professional reponsibilities.

Much as I'm glad to have that straightened out, I can't help but feel Senator Burr might benefit from learning to use a teleprompter.

--Christopher Orr