Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Flotsam and Jetsam

Tim Kaine has a tricky task balancing his jobs as head of the DNC and Governor of Virginia. The DNC isn’t too demanding these days, with the Democrats sailing smoothly along, but the governorship is a handful. His dual role is already causing a stir in Virginia and may complicate the state races for the Commonwealth’s Democrats this year.

The Washington Post ever so gently opposes the President’s stimulus plan in its current form: “Congress and the administration would be well advised to trim the stimulus bill’s more dubious spending, or reallocate it and focus on a definitive financial sector cleanup. Fiscal stimulus can be a part of the solution, but only if it is ‘targeted, timely and temporary.’ The efforts so far don’t quite match that description.” What, are they taking direction from Rush Limbaugh too?

Minority Leader John Boehner  said to “put me down in the ‘no’ category.” On Meet the Press, Boehner pointed to millions to be spent on National Mall renovations and contraceptives as examples of the non-stimulative spending, and tweaked his Democratic opponents with their own language: “At the end of the day, it has to be targeted. . . . It’s about preserving jobs and creating new jobs.”

Robert J. Samuelson explains: “Parts of the House package look like a giant political slush fund, with money sprinkled to dozens of programs. There’s $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund and $15.6 billion for increased Pell Grants to college students. Some of these proposals, whatever their other merits, won’t produce many new jobs. Another problem: Construction spending — for schools, clinics, roads — may start so slowly that there will be little immediate economic boost. The Congressional Budget Office examined $356 billion in spending proposals and concluded that only 7 percent would be spent in 2009 and 31 percent in 2010.”

Nor is Fred Barnes optimistic that the President can get the 80 votes in the Senate he wanted: “But you can’t do that if you stuff Republicans, if you dis them, if you ignore them, if you vote down any proposals that they want to add to the bills.”

Jacob Weisberg’s vision of the proper role of government differs substantially from that of most conservatives. But he shares their puzzlement and frustration about what President Obama is up to: “Obama must decide what government’s goals are before considering the subordinate questions of what works and how much we can afford. Obama’s vagueness about the federal role comes at a moment when clarity is especially needed. Our government is about to become bigger, more powerful and more expensive in order to deal with a sprawling economic crisis. Washington will take on responsibilities it hasn’t shouldered in 75 years, such as directly alleviating unemployment and perhaps nationalizing banks. . . A president facing this situation needs to know what’s temporary and what’s permanent, if only because of the tendency for the one to become the other.” It is hard to quibble with his conclusion: “[A]s he navigates the crisis, Obama would do well to figure out what he thinks about the fundamental question of government’s responsibilities.”

Howard Kurtz says MSNBC is in the tank for Obama. Next week Kurtz will confirm that the earth is round.

Mickey Kaus is right: it is fine if the UAW doesn’t want to make anymore concessions. But then the taxpayers don’t have to give their employer any more money, right? We should be so lucky.

But it gets worse. The Obama administration is going to reverse the Bush administration policy and allow California and thirteen other states to impose stricter fuel emissions and air quality standards on car manufacturers. What does this mean for the nearly bankrupt auto companies? “Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.” That in turn will increase the demand for still more bailouts, because the auto companies can’t make cars profitably under the existing CAFE standards.

I finally found something on which I agree with Russ Feingold: we should require special elections to fill empty senate seats.

John McCain chides the President on his pick for Deputy Defense Secretary: “I think it’s a bit disingenuous to announce strict rules and then nominate someone with a waiver from the rules that you just announced in one of the most important jobs in Washington.” But then why don’t McCain and his colleague Lindsay Graham actually try to block the confirmation? Seems sort of disingenuous for them to shrug their shoulders and move the nomination along.

Chris Wallace: “You know, there was a famous — I guess it was a movie called ‘Garbo Speaks,’ and the idea that this famously silent person actually talks and people are underwhelmed is the lesson here for Caroline Kennedy. Better to be America’s silent princess?” Ouch.

Bill Kristol pens his last column for the New York Times. (In appropriately ego-centric style, the Gray Lady says it is “his last column.” Period. No, Pinch, just for you.) The Times will now be relieved of the obligation to account for facts revealed only in his columns.