I’m not in full-on OBAMA IS TEH FAIL mode yet. Far from it. And I believe that a stimulus package not too different from the one he proposed will pass the Senate next week. Not bad for three weeks work. But I think that Michael Hirsh’s take (via Digby) on what’s going on is very smart:
Barack Obama began making his comeback on Wednesday, apparently aware that he has all but lost control of the agenda in Washington at a time when he simply can’t afford to do so. Obama’s biggest problem isn’t Taxgate—which resulted in the Terrible Tuesday departure of his trusted friend, Tom Daschle, and the defanging of his Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner. Nor is the No. 1 problem that the president can’t seem to win a single Republican vote for his stimulus package. That’s a symptom, not a cause. The reason Obama is getting so few votes is that he is no longer setting the terms of the debate over how to save the economy. Instead the Republican Party—the one we thought lost the election—is doing that. And the confusion and delay this is causing could realize Obama’s worst fears, turning “crisis into a catastrophe,” as the president said Wednesday.
Obama’s desire to begin a “post-partisan” era may have backfired. In his eagerness to accommodate Republicans and listen to their ideas over the past week, he has allowed the GOP to turn the haggling over the stimulus package into a decidedly stale, Republican-style debate over pork, waste and overspending. This makes very little economic sense when you are in a major recession that only gets worse day by day. Yes, there are still some very legitimate issues with a bill that’s supposed to be “temporary” and “targeted”—among them, large increases in permanent entitlement spending, and a paucity of tax cuts requiring immediate spending. Even so, Obama has allowed Congress to grow embroiled in nitpicking over efficiency when the central debate should be about whether the package is big enough. When you are dealing with a stimulus of this size, there are going to be wasteful expenditures and boondoggles. There’s no way anyone can spend $800 to $900 billion quickly without waste and boondoggles. It comes with the Keynesian territory. This is an emergency; the normal rules do not apply.
I don’t blame Obama for not realizing what douchebags the Villagers and Congressional Republicans were going to be. Someone who had as low an opinion of human nature as is realistic (and as I personally have) never would have run for president in the first place.
But I think that at some point he has to come to grips with the fact that a good proportion of the Villagers and Congressional Republicans (and probably more than one or two Congressional Democrats) would happily shove the entire country into one of Bob’s brick ovens if they thought that would get them a book deal or a better committee appointment or more face time on Morning Joe or what have you.
Let’s take a step back. There’s essentially a “best practices” approach to dealing with financial calamity: you max out your monetary policy, which we’ve already done, and then you spend as much money as you possibly can without actually setting the stuff on fire (I’m exaggerating, but you get the point). That’s not Obama’s plan or Democrats’ plan, that’s the mainstream economic plan. Not everyone agrees with it, but not everyone agrees that you should take antibiotics if you’ve got pneumonia or that you should stop smoking if you’re coughing all the time.
So let’s admit that what we have here is a media and Congressional Republican assault on economic common sense. No one expects an assault on common sense. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition either (link added). But when either comes, you’d better react.