Don't mention nationalisation
In his speech to Congress yesterday, President Obama wanted to remind us of his steely resolve. You can see why.
To judge by the polls, voters still hold Mr Obama in high esteem. But when it comes to the economic crisis, steely resolve has not been the message of the administration's first month.
Fixing the US economy and the banking system was always going to be hard. No-one expected the Obama team to wave a magic wand. And, to underscore the point, it has only been one month.
But here's what many find troubling about the record so far. The Obama White House will almost certainly never have more political capital than it has now - more room to think the unthinkable,and do it.
Yet to many economists, the policies that the administration has announced so far are in some respects, the bare minimum. They're what the country will need if everything works. And the White House is having trouble with even those.
Yes, the fiscal stimulus package was large, but no larger than most think the economy will require. To get it, the president had to struggle much more than he would have liked.
He has also given the public the impression that this will be the last stimulus package Congress will have to pass. We'll find out more when he unveils his new budget tomorrow, but that's the implication of the president's pledge last night to halve the deficit by the end of 2012.
To believe there won't be need for any more, you have also to believe that the private sector will be able to take up the baton of growth by the middle of next year, when the bulk of this stimulus will have run its course. To many economists, that sounds optimistic, at best.
As Goldman Sachs analysts have pointed out, the American private sector is moving from a period of historic deficit to one of surplus - from net borrowing of 3.5% of GDP in 2006 to net saving of around 1% of GDP last year.
To judge by the Japan experience, that shift has a long way to run. The same team reckons the private sector could be saving to the tune of 10% of GDP by 2012.
Theoretically, the rest of the world could take up that slack; exports could soar, and the US could start lending all that private saving to the rest of the world. But that's not what you would call the baseline scenario. The much, much more likely outcome is that government borrowing will not only rise to around 10% of GDP this year (as projected) but will also stay in that vicinity for several years.
The only question is whether that happens by choice, through government stimulus, or by default, as a deeper recession takes its toll on the federal budget.
You can see why the President would not want to raise these issues in his address last night. In a world of problems-for-right-now, next year's fiscal stimulus package is one of the few that can wait.
But the same cannot be said of the Financial Stability Plan and fixing America's banks.
The Administration has said it will be resolute in stress testing the banks and acting on the findings.
Nearly everyone agrees that this kind of reckoning will be required to finally rebuild confidence in the nation's financial institutions.
Surprisingly, perhaps, most now also believe that the end conclusion of this exercise ought to be the nationalisation of several important banks. That's because, even to many Republicans, the uneasy middle ground we have now exposes the taxpayer to all of the risk on the banks' balance sheets but none of the potential gains.
But in its extraordinary joint statement on Monday with the major financial regulators and the Fed, the Treasury Department once again re-iterated that "the strong presumption is that banks should remain in private hands".
That is certainly the strong presumption for normal times. Just as nationalisation, in normal times in America, is the policy that dare not speak its name. But these are not normal times. If the Administration dare not speak its name now, many are wondering what else it will not have the courage to do.