WASHINGTON — President Bush urged Americans Friday to remain calm and allow time for a rescue plan to stabilize financial markets, reflecting a renewed attempt by the White House to stave off panic in the face of the global economic meltdown.
In a Rose Garden statement bearing faint echoes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats during the Great Depression, Bush vowed the nation would "come through this together" and warned that "uncertainty and fear" were adding to the stock market collapse.
"This uncertainty has led to anxiety among our people," Bush said, referring to the loss of confidence that has virtually frozen credit markets and lending between banks. "And that is understandable. But anxiety can feed anxiety, and that can make it hard to see all that is being done to solve the problem."
Bush also pleaded for patience, saying it would take time for the administration to fully implement its week-old $700-billion financial rescue plan.
The president has made almost daily attempts over the past three weeks to calm markets or reassure Americans about the economy, with little apparent impact so far.
During a 15-minute prime-time address Sept. 24, Bush warned that "the entire economy is in danger" while urging Congress to approve a rescue plan. Otherwise, he has stuck mostly to brief statements or remarks, often delivered during events unrelated to the financial crisis.
Friday, amid calls for calm and resilience, Bush spent several minutes reciting a list of ongoing financial calamities and the administration's responses to them. He also outlined mortgage assistance programs available for distressed homeowners, and assured depositors that "your money is safe" because of a newly enacted increase in federal deposit insurance.
James Thurber, a presidential historian at American University, said Bush has failed to soothe the nation in a time of growing fear, comparing his remarks unfavorably with those of other presidents, including Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Thurber and other historians say Bush is capable of inspiration, citing his post-Sept. 11 speech in New York.
"In some of his presentations, including his address to the nation, he's caused more fear than anything else," Thurber said. "He had a chance to turn that around and be presidential and bring a little more assurance in the public mind about where we're going with this thing. But he hasn't done that."
Bernard Clineburg, chief executive of Cardinal Bank of McLean, Va., was infuriated by Bush's speech. He called his congressman, Rep. James Moran, D-Va., to complain that the president was upsetting his customers by failing to communicate that most banks are doing fine.
Bush is due to give another statement this morning after meeting with finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations.