In pressuring Congress to pass his recovery plan, he sounds too much like a bear.
Barack Obama has delivered blunt economic talk lately. If Washington doesn't act, he warns, this recession could "linger for years"; 4 million people could be thrown out of work in 2009; trillion-dollar deficits are likely "for years to come"; America could "lose a generation of potential and promise." What's happened to "Yes, we can"?
The president-elect is probably directing these dire predictions at Congress to spur it to act urgently in support of his economic recovery plan and endure higher deficits for now.
But the public is also listening, as are financial markets. Mr. Obama must be mindful of the many hats he wears, with the most important being that of a leader whom the world looks to for confidence.
Consumers and markets can suffer more from imagined or expected fears than from actual experience. At this moment, the unemployment rate (7.2 percent) is not as bad as the postwar peak of 10.8 percent during the 1980s recession. It even beats Europe's current rate.
This week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke underscored the beneficial psychological effect of government spending, and said the economy may stabilize in the second half of the year.
Yet the suspicion – justified? – that this will not be a "normal" recession prompts even employed Americans to hold back and financial markets to gyrate.
Of course, the country needs straighttalk about troubles. But it also needs to hear from its leader how it can overcome them. When presidents appear at times to be just as morose as the population, they lose their ability to lead.