I’ve been hollering for days about this or that Republican’s picayune complaints about the Stimulus Bill — either line items for minuscule dollar amounts or bogus complaints about spending items that demonstrably will create lots of jobs and improve the economy over the long term. And now, according to the Post, President Obama is “frustrated by the public perception that the recovery bill was becoming laden with partisan pet projects.”
The good news for the country and President Obama is that Obama remains extremely popular, the Stimulus Bill is pretty popular and the Democrats have big majorities in both houses of Congress. So there’s little doubt his bill will pass Congress in something like its current form.
But there also shouldn’t be much question why Republicans are having such a field day spreading disinformation and simple nonsense about this bill. We’ve heard virtually nothing over the last couple weeks about the big issue, which is that the economy is in severe free-fall because of a once-in-a-century financial crisis. And because of that, the federal government needs to step in with big short term spending to create jobs to see us through the crisis. Those jobs are needed in the short-term to prevent unemployment from getting out of hand and in the longer term to reshape the economy so that we’re not dependent on recurrent bubbles to keep the economy afloat. This is an emergency jobs bill. And it costs a lot of money because we’re in a deep crisis. But this basic point has disappeared almost entirely from the public debate.
ThinkProgress has admirably demonstrated that the cable networks continue to tip the scales in favor of Republicans by booking like twice or even three times as many Republicans as Democrats to discuss the Stimulus Bill. But that only tells us what we already know, which is that the Washington press establishment is still wired for Republicans. But there is a Democratic president. And he does have the bully pulpit. And he needs to make this argument, which he’s not. Absent that, we can’t be surprised and the Democrats are not in much of a position to complain if the vacuum is filled by a bunch of Republicans making statements that are either demonstrable nonsense or just lies.
Look at what people are talking about and you wouldn’t get the sense that we’re actually in the midst of a major economic crisis that will likely send unemployment well into double digits if nothing is done quickly — and a crisis that is in large measure the result of the economic policies that the Boehners and Cantors and McConnells are telling us, all the evidence to the contrary, will now save us. Everyone who’s taking this situation seriously realizes that spending is the pivotal part of what the government needs to do to stabilize the economy in the face of this crisis. The multipliers for spending versus tax cuts simply leaves no question about that. Ask McCain economic advisor Mark Zandi. The solid critiques from the right aren’t about whether spending is needed but which types are most efficient.
Without a clear argument about why this whole exercise is necessary, it’s inevitable that the debate will be ground down to the inconsequential minutiae which is the aim of its opponents. Big things need a president to argue for them.
Nor should we think there’s no issue just as long as the bill itself gets passed, which seems likely. To paraphrase Woody Allen in Annie Hall, a political movement is like a shark: to live it has to keep moving forward. Or more aptly, to paraphrase another immortal, Bob Dylan: political movements not being born are busy dying. The campaign isn’t over. November 5th was just a big hurdle. The arguments still have to be made for the direction we want to take the country. We need the big picture or we’ll run again on distractions and the efforts of discredited malefactors.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.