President Obama has employed the worst kinds of political rhetoric in support of his stimulus bill. His weekly presidential address was a case in point. First, is the politics of fear:
President Obama then warned, “if we don’t move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe. Millions of Americans will lose their jobs, their homes, and their health care. Millions more will have to put their dreams on hold.”
Then came the ad hominem attacks on his opponents and a fairly blatant distortion of their position:
Mr. Obama described his opponents as offering “tired old theories that, in eight short years, doubled the national debt, threw our economy into a tailspin, and led us into this mess in the first place” and “a losing formula that offers only tax cuts as the answer to all our problems while ignoring our fundamental economic challenges…”
The Republicans of course aren’t pleased:
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican’s No. 2 in the Senate, criticized Obama as misrepresenting Republicans’ concerns and accused the president of using “dangerous words” in describing the emergency.
“This is still a very big spending bill,” Kyl said on the Senate floor as an afternoon session got under way. “You can’t fix it by simply shaving a little bit off.”
Perhaps there is a better explanation for why $819 or $827B (or whatever number the conference committee will arrive at) is money well spent. We haven’t heard Obama give a reason why tax rate cuts aren’t viable alternatives to non-stimulative spending in the form of huge transfer payments. We don’t know why defense spending isn’t a part of the plan. All we know is that he won and he’ll get most of what he wants.
Obama is reverting to what he does best: bare knuckle politics. The Washington Post tells us:
Beset by criticism of an alleged ethical double standard over some of his Cabinet choices and an intensifying partisan debate over his economic recovery plan, Obama is attempting a return to the campaign-style approach and aggressiveness that echoes the toughest days of his battle with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
And the Obama team is forlorn that “Obama’s honeymoon in Washington evaporated more quickly than his adivsors ever imagined.” That is what comes, I suppose, of treating the Oval Office like campaign headquarters.
Republicans would do well to do what the president has not. First, explain their own reasons for opposing the bill. Second, explain the consequences of spending this much money for so little stimulative impact. Third, decline to return the nasty barbs in kind.
And then the public will judge for themselves. Does the economy bounce back faster than one might expect without all this spending? Do the budgetary and inflationary consequences outweigh any gains achieved? The results of the bill, of course, will be murky because the economy always bounces back — eventually. Did we speed that up appreciably for over a trillion dollars (including interest) in new debt? It’ll be hard to tell.
But some thing have certainly been lost: the hope for a new era of bipartisanship and the establishment of Obama as a transformational figure in American politics. We’re back to the same old, same old.