Godfather or Consigliere?

This Times story on Energy Secretary Stephen Chu’s role in the BP disaster contains some subtle, but insidious, bad journalism.

In early May, he suggested using gamma ray imaging to determine the condition of the well’s blowout preventer, a move no one at the company had considered.

A few weeks later, he overruled some BP officials and ordered the company to stop the “top kill” effort, citing “very, very grave concerns” that it could backfire.

He insisted in late June that a tighter cap be installed on the leaking riser. And on Tuesday, over the strenuous objections of top BP officials, he ordered a 24-hour delay in plans to conduct a pressure test on the well, saying that more safety precautions and analysis were necessary.

[emphasis mine]

If Chu can “overrule”, then he has some kind of power, right? Not so fast:

He is not formally part of the chain of command in the spill response, but carries the authority of Mr. Obama as well as his own considerable intellectual heft.

The whole story is crystal unclear about what Chu can actually do. It’s crying out for a paragraph or two about the Energy Department’s role in oil production (if any), and Chu’s role versus other players like Salazar. That might seem nit-picky, but part of the reason that people expect Obama to pull out his god wand and make it all better is because a lot of political journalism is very mushy about the roles and powers of participants in the process.

Also, too: People make a lot of fun of the “Snooze Hour”, but one thing Jim Lehrer is really good at is making his guests stop and explain acronyms and agency roles. Some might consider that disrespecting the viewer’s intelligence, but I think it’s quite the opposite. It acknowledges that smart people might be new to a subject and may need some context.

66 replies
  1. 1
    El Cid says:

    He might have threatened to use his Shaolin style on them.

  2. 2
    BR says:

    Man, if we really want to not get screwed by the dual specters of Climate Change and Peak Oil in the coming few years, we really need to look to Steven Chu for a solution.

    My policy prescription is this: give Steven Chu a $1 trillion/year budget and the ability to hire anyone he wants, with a mandate to get us off of imported fossil fuels in 10 years.

    That’s the scale of change we need, not this nibbling around the edges crap of a bill the senate is pushing.

  3. 3
    frankdawg says:

    This is a constant ‘feature’ of TV news that drives me nuts! They will do a whole story about something important without making any effort to connect what it means, how it came to be or what the background is. While most of the ‘news’ is cotton candy, pretty, sweet and totally worthless this sort of reporting is the ‘big Mac’ – full of fat and calories but not really good for anything.

  4. 4
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    I just finished watching the News Hour Shields and Brooks political wrap up and here’s what David Brooks had to say:

    They passed a series of bills that were major pieces of legislation, but which were unpopular. I think the strategy from a lot of Democrats was, we’re going to take our hits, but, over the next generation, we will have health care, we will have financial reform, we will have the big spending that comes out of the stimulus. … And so the country has reacted as the way it was obviously going to react for the past year. People were very suspicious of the increase in spending and the increase in the role of government. And they’re going to take it out on the Democratic Party.

    I think the fact that Jim Lehrer and Mark Shields plus several Newshour producers don’t leap on David Brooks when he says things like this and pin him to the desk screaming at him until he admits that he’s lying is a astonishing.

    With unemployment at nearly 10% and a huge number of progressives pissed off at the Democrats and the White House for being too Republican, to say glibly that all disapproval of Congress in poll numbers right now is due to “people suspicious of the increase in spending and the role of government” is fairly typical FOX News Republican propaganda, but to let someone say it on a supposedly moderate informative program without calling him out as hack and a liar is just absurd.

    But yes, he does make them spell out the acronyms. And Mark Shields occasionally mildly disagrees with Brooks while still generally praising his basic wise, serious perspective.

  5. 5
    Emma says:

    Frankdawg: This is the primary reason why I don’t watch news anymore and read mostly the McClatchy feed and the BBC World News sites. Nobody else seems interested in providing context. If I have to do all the research myself, why bother?

    Though I will admit the NewsHour tries. But then again, sometimes I have to look at Bobo’s face and the gag reflex just takes over.

  6. 6

    You have to keep and eye out these days, Who knows what schemes the shifty Chinese have in store for murrica. Just ask Wen Ho Lee.

  7. 7
    vtr says:

    @Emma: “If you never have, please watch the CBC’s evening news program, “The National.” You can see it online at cbc.ca.

  8. 8
    The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations says:

    but which were unpopular

    Ah, Bobo.

    Is there anything cuter than the Beltway Inbreds’ helicopter-parenting concern for Obama and policies that have 50% and over approval, which never existed when Shrub and his policies and accomplishments (sic) were at 30%?

  9. 9
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Back in the impeachment day, I used to posit this Gedankenexperiment.

    Secretly, overnight, swap the faculty, students, and alumni of every MFA creative writing program in the country with those of every J-school in the country.

    In the morning, could you tell the difference? In six months, could you still tell the difference? And what would the UTNE Reader look like at the end of a year?

  10. 10
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Davis X. Machina: I for one welcome our new, infinitely long, footnoted stream of consciousness pieces in the Washington Post.

    I mean, it would have to be an improvement, no?

  11. 11
    jurassicpork says:

    Sorry for the OT post but I lost my internet access at home last night and can’t log on at my leisure to wait for an open thread.

    Mrs. JP got laid off last night and, with my UI benefits expiring and the Senate not doing shit last week re: an extension, we are truly, truly fucked and facing eviction. Anything anyone could do would be greatly appreciated. There aren’t even any homeless shelters here.

  12. 12
    Zifnab says:

    That might seem nit-picky, but part of the reason that people expect Obama to pull out his god wand and make it all better is because a lot of political journalism is very mushy about the roles and powers of participants in the process.

    I think that’s part of it. That, combined with the constant insistence from the right that Obama is some all-powerful dictator and from the left that Obama should be an all-powerful dictator but is just wussing out.

    Honestly, I blame a lot of this mentality on the Bush Years. The Bush Administration had a habit of confronting a problem, throwing a lot of political muscle and theatrics behind it, and then announcing it “solved” after a month or two. With a schizophrenic media that can’t go in depth on a story or follow it for more than a month or two anyway, this strategy made the Bush Administration appear effective – at least until all the old problems they said they solved started popping back up again.

    Either way, everyone – conservatives and liberals alike – have embraced this instant-gratification mentality that make them believe things like the BP oil disaster or the broken financial system CAN be fixed inside a single news cycle.

  13. 13
    Ogami Itto says:

    In early May, he suggested using gamma ray imaging to determine the condition of the well’s blowout preventer, a move no one at the company had considered.

    Oh great. So now the Obama administration wants to use Gamma Rays to solve a problem create an army of Hulks to enforce his social-ist, muslim, nazi domestic policies.

  14. 14

    @jurassicpork: You might want to check with HUD and get a rent voucher from them. If you have no income, they most likely will pay all the rent. If your current landlord won’t accept HUD, then some others will. It takes a little time, buy they retro payment back a month or two, I think. They may also have designated public housing apt’s, but those often have waiting lists. Then there is food stamps at your country, or state income services that can help for temporary money assistance. Sorry to hear of your troubles, and good luck.

  15. 15
    danimal says:

    part of the reason that people expect Obama to pull out his god wand and make it all better is because a lot of political journalism is very mushy about the roles and powers of participants in the process.

    It’s too bad we don’t have an industry dedicated to providing basic, accurate background information so that the American public is informed about current events.

  16. 16
    Lolis says:

    I hope one of the bloggers here will highlight the new Simon Johnson piece over at HuffPo. His thesis: if Obama does not pick Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Agency, that will be the decision that historians cite as the downfall of the presidency.

    I kept waiting for the /snark tag, but it never came.

  17. 17
    Liz says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    “A huge number of progressives” are not pissed off at President Obama. The blogger elite are pissed off at President Obama because being pissed off at President Obama is what butters their bread.

    This is the same blogger elite that didn’t support candidate Obama until the last possible minute when it become obvious he was going to win, and yet act as if it weren’t for them he’d be nothing/nowhere. They’re mad at him for not seeming grateful enough for their last minute acknowledgment of reality.

    It’s ironic, “liberal” bloggers love to bemoan that the mainstream media and Democrats in Congress don’t do enough to attack Republicans. But what are the liberal bloggers doing to attack Republicans? NOTHING. With the exception of maybe 3 blogs, it’s all outrage at President Obama and/or Democrats. It’s the same bullshit being pushed by different actors on a different day for petty reasons.

    Yet, considering the non-stop (and in many cases unfair) attacks and misinformation campaigns from Republicans, the mainstream media and far to many “liberal” bloggers, and given the realities of current situations, President Obama is still doing fine among real vs. virtual world Democrats/Liberals.

  18. 18
    I have issues with Baltimore says:

    At what point does “also, too” stop being mockery and instead becomes an everyday utility?

  19. 19
    Hunter Gathers says:

    @Lolis: HuffPo is a source of highly concentrated stupid. Every piece can be described thusly – Moar Bully Pulpit!

  20. 20
    Brachiator says:

    Also, too: People make a lot of fun of the “Snooze Hour”, but one thing Jim Lehrer is really good at is making his guests stop and explain acronyms and agency roles. Some might consider that disrespecting the viewer’s intelligence, but I think it’s quite the opposite. It acknowledges that smart people might be new to a subject and may need some context.

    Thanks very much for this. You are right that Lehrer and similar programs adds much needed perspective to the story. Otherwise, the quotes about Chu can lead to all kinds of oversimplified jumped-to conclusions, including the inevitable tea bagger crap about the Obama Administration “taking over” another industry.

    @Zifnab:

    Either way, everyone – conservatives and liberals alike – have embraced this instant-gratification mentality that make them believe things like the BP oil disaster or the broken financial system CAN be fixed inside a single news cycle.

    Sadly true. If the newly installed cap holds, I half expect some pundit to ask why Obama didn’t put on his Iron Man suit and dive into the Gulf to install the cap when the spill first happened. And Rush will gas on about how Obama deliberately kept BP from installing the cap on Day One because he wants to control the oil companies.

  21. 21
    Liz says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    “A huge number of progressives” are not pissed off at President Obama. The blogger elite are pissed off at President Obama because being pissed off at President Obama is what butters their bread.

    This is the same blogger elite that didn’t support candidate Obama until the last possible minute when it was obvious he was going to win, and yet act as if it weren’t for them he’d be nothing/nowhere. They’re mad at him for not appearing grateful enough for their last minute acknowledgment of reality.

    It’s ironic, “liberal” bloggers love to bemoan that the mainstream media and Democrats in Congress don’t do enough to attack Republicans. But what are the liberal bloggers doing to attack Republicans? NOTHING. With the exception of maybe 3 blogs, it’s all outrage at President Obama and his administration and/or Democrats in Congress. It’s the same bullshit being pushed by different actors on a different day for petty reasons.

    Yet, considering the non-stop (and in many cases unfair) attacks and misinformation campaigns from Republicans, the mainstream media and far to many “liberal” bloggers, and given the realities of current situations, President Obama is still doing fine among real vs. virtual world Democrats/Liberals.

  22. 22
    Nick says:

    @Lolis:

    His thesis: if Obama does not pick Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Agency, that will be the decision that historians cite as the downfall of the presidency.

    I thought historians would consider a stimulus too small as the downfall of his presidency. Actually, I thought it was when he sent more troops into Afghanistan, but then HuffPost told me it was when he didn’t fight for the public option, but apparently I was mistaken because then I was told it was not fighting for TBTF.

    HuffPost is trying to cover its ass. It got called out yesterday for doing something it rightly criticizes other outlets for doing…running a front page story with no attributation except for an anonymous source who claims to know how a person thinks. They got pwned when one of Geihtner’s deputies came out and said “what are you talking about? Of course we think she’s qualified!” Then they moved to “Yeah but she isn’t A LOCK!!!”

    Now they have to pivot lest their followers realize that they’re no better than Fox or Politico. Because, you know, a woman who may or may not even want the job is the ONLY ONE

    In the meantime, the GOP and Conservative senators just decided to filibuster a potential Warren nomination endlessly because, hey, how would it effect them? Nobody listens to HuffPost except a small percentage of the left who can only give Obama a headache, and then just barely. Lets let her nomination sit around for months and months and eventually people will demand Obama find someone else (because, really, there’s no one else on this fucking planet who can do this job except her?) and the HuffPost crazies will accuse Obama of “not fighting” even if he did, because he didn’t win, and Obama loses!

    Time to punch some hippies if you ask me.

  23. 23
    Davis X. Machina says:

    If Jurassicpork owns rather than rents, he might be interested in this, tucked into the FinReg package, though October 1 is a long way away under the circumstances.

  24. 24
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Nobody listens to HuffPost except a small percentage of the left…

    I dunno, I rely on it for the news I just can’t get anywhere else… (#1 on the most-popular…)

  25. 25
    El Cid says:

    Raymond Shaw Stephen Chu is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

  26. 26
    Anya says:

    @Lolis: I was shocked that he joined the perpetually disappointed in Obama club. There was a diary at GOS, last night, basically arguing, without any shred of proof, that Geithner is apposing EW’s nomination. Did Geithner replace Rahm for the position of the most despised in the Obama Administration?

  27. 27
    cat48 says:

    @Lolis:

    Actually, it was more like, otherwise no more support for you (???) unless she gets the job, Negro.

    This can now go only one of two ways.

    1. Elizabeth Warren gets the job. Bridges are mended and the White House regains some political capital. Secretary Geithner is weakened slightly but he’ll recover.
    2. Someone else gets the job, despite Treasury’s claims that Elizabeth Warren was not blocked. The deception in this scenario would be nauseating – and completely blatant. “Everyone was considered on their merits” and “the best candidate won” will convince who exactly?
    Despite the growing public reaction, outcome #2 is the most likely and the White House needs to understand this, plain and clear – there will be complete and utter revulsion at its handling of financial regulatory reform both on this specific issue and much more broadly. The administration’s position in this area is already weak, its achievements remain minimal, its speaking points are lame, and the patience of even well-inclined people is wearing thin.
    Failing to appoint Elizabeth Warren would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It will go down in the history books as a turning point – downwards – for this administration.

  28. 28
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @cat48:Doc Oc, my old history teacher, warned us never to use the phrase ‘turning point’ when writing history: “Three turning points, and you’re back where you started from — but history never repeats itself.”

  29. 29
    Brachiator says:

    @Anya:

    Did Geithner replace Rahm for the position of the most despised in the Obama Administration?

    Geithner is part of the regular rotation for the Most Hated Figure slot. He played a pivotal role in advocating the bailout, is too chummy with the big boys in the financial industry, etc.

  30. 30
    Unabogie says:

    @Brachiator:

    But it goes beyond that. They honestly think Geithner would rather see the economy tank than hurt his “buddies on Wall Street”. That’s just nuts. I didn’t even think this about Hank Paulson. Doesn’t anyone think Geithner cares about himself, when his only job is to help fix the economy? Why would he care more about “buddies” when his ass is on the line?

  31. 31
    DickSpudCouchPotatoDetective says:

    people expect Obama to pull out his god wand

    Again BJ goes for the cheap sexual reference ………..

  32. 32
    cat48 says:

    @Brachiator:

    Yea, baby!! Geithner, is teh one now according to HuffPo! The WashPo had an article about all his new powers in the FINREG bill which sounded like things a TreasSec might do, you know. Then HuffPo/Simon Johnson wrote a screed, Cenk threatened the pres in an obscure way with ? Reich and assorted others said FinReg was teh FAIL, etc. and on and on and on……..You see the bloggers at HuffPo told Obama last yr to get rid of Timmy & nationalize the damn banks and O still hasn’t listened!

  33. 33
    Unabogie says:

    By the way, with the cap now in place, and 20 billion dollars in an escrow fund to pay the victims, does anyone, ANYONE think Reich was right that Obama should have nationalized BP?

    Is there any doubt in the world that he handled this well? He got the money from them, put all focus on their actions, enacted a moratorium on future drilling while they research what went wrong, cleaned up MMS, and stopped the leak.

    And all without letting BP off the hook by taking over their company and giving the Teatards more satisfaction than they deserve.

  34. 34
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Liz:

    It’s ironic, “liberal” bloggers love to bemoan that the mainstream media and Democrats in Congress don’t do enough to attack Republicans. But what are the liberal bloggers doing to attack Republicans? NOTHING.

    This is nonsense.

    This is what I hate, hippie punching is one thing, being pissed at Jane Hamsher is one thing, but just making these broad, exaggerated statements is absurd.

    Progressive bloggers don’t have as much influence as people here like to think. And yes, progressives are pissed off, in much greater numbers than can be accounted for by the fact that all of them read blogs. In the scheme of things, hardly anyone does.

    Democrats and progressives aren’t the same thing. Democratic poll numbers showing support for Obama doesn’t translate to progressive/liberal support for Obama.

    Like it, dislike it, I’m not even getting into that, but saying that it doesn’t exist or is limited to the roughly dozen or so bloggers you’re thinking of is just wrong.

    A bunch of posts here are slamming the Huffington Post as one of these blogs, and I actually agree with most of them, I sort of hate it half the time. On the other hand, you’re saying that you’ve never seen a blog like that go after Wingnuts and Republicans?

    Please.

  35. 35
    Kristine says:

    @cat48:

    Failing to appoint Elizabeth Warren would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It will go down in the history books as a turning point – downwards – for this administration.

    Doesn’t she need to be approved by the Senate? Because if so, I think her approval would take a fucking miracle. Recess appointment would buy some time, but I don’t see any Republicans or Baucus/Nelson Dems supporting her later approval no matter how much arm-twisting the WH attempts. I’d love to see her in the post, but the corporatists would block her at every turn or demand so many limitations be put on her that her role would be rendered advisory at best.

    I would love to be wrong on this. But after all we’ve seen so far, I don’t know how anyone can still expect Obama to ram anything through the Senate and insist on holding him up for censure if he fails. I swear that too many Senators see a president as a temporary pest who will fade away eventually. They’re like redwoods or sequoias. The rest of the world flits around them, and they just keep growing and spreading according to their own scale of time.

  36. 36
    jwb says:

    @Nick: The too-small stimulus was definitely a decisive moment-though it remains unclear whether the compromise on the stimulus was the political price required to get everything else done. Since you can’t rerun history, it’s difficult to say. All we can really say is that it wasn’t a political battle Obama was willing to fight, even though it seems clear that everyone in the administration at the time recognized that the stimulus was not going to be adequate.

  37. 37
    cat48 says:

    Sweet Jesus, I just noticed that “Sign the Petition” ad that says “Forget what Timothy Geithner thinks. We want Elizabeth Warren.” Looks like HuffPo has invaded John’s blog!

  38. 38
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Kristine: I don’t see how Warren can be dinged as “intemperate” or “excessively liberal” or anything, so I’m not sure who would be out to get her and on what basis. HuffPo’s stories about Washington may as well be about the Kardashians: it’s all just rumors and catfights.

  39. 39
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @jwb:

    All we can really say is that it wasn’t a political battle Obama was willing to fight

    Do you really think it’s possible to win a “political battle” framed as “$700B in unanticipated spending and tax cuts is too little, so until you accept that it has to be $1.4T, we’ll just let it be $0?”

  40. 40
    Turgid Jacobian says:

    @Davis X. Machina: The New Republic?

  41. 41
    cat48 says:

    @Kristine:

    Yes, she has to make it thru the Senate to be confirmed and she would have to be vetted if she hasn’t already been. There’s 3 candidates for the position. I’m sick of them ordering Obama around over there as THEY ARE NOT PROVIDING HIM ANY SUPPORT!!! When they make TV appearances, it is only to bash him. I have no idea if they even know how they sound anymore they are so used to doing it. They’re all very, very shrill!

  42. 42
    Davis X. Machina says:

    I don’t know how anyone can still expect Obama to ram anything through the Senate and insist on holding him up for censure if he fails.

    Bully-pulpit-primary-challenge-LBJ-armtwisting-committee-chair-federal-contracts.

    I saved it as a keyboard macro. Speeds things up enormously, especially here and here.

  43. 43
    Corner Stone says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    Do you really think it’s possible to win a “political battle” framed as “$700B in unanticipated spending and tax cuts is too little, so until you accept that it has to be $1.4T, we’ll just let it be $0?”

    First, that’s a false premise. Who’s saying the admin should’ve stomped their feet and said, “Fine! Nothing it is!”
    Nobody.
    But, we’ll never know about the outcome of a “political battle” for a stimulus that might have been more effective, will we?

  44. 44
    Corner Stone says:

    @Davis X. Machina: I don’t think there’s any reasonable comparison of OpenLeft and Corrente.
    You may not agree with the main posts at either site, but they are wildly different in how they approach their perspective.

  45. 45
    cat48 says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Too funny! Love it.

  46. 46
    Brachiator says:

    @jwb:

    The too-small stimulus was definitely a decisive moment-though it remains unclear whether the compromise on the stimulus was the political price required to get everything else done.

    The too-small stimulus is a delusion of progressives. It’s easy to engage in the fantasy hypothetical that if only Obama had been able to spend a gazillion trillion dollars, we would all have our ponies now, and some liberal pundits are now free to unleash a billion words on this “turning point” and “missed opportunity.” Meanwhile, Obama and the Democrats, and even the dumbass Republicans, have to deal with the state of the economy now, not the economy in some mystical alternate universe.

    Hell, historians debate which New Deal programs were successful and which were busts, but at the time FDR did not have time or opportunity to elegantly craft the most perfect solutions. He tried stuff, won some, lost some, and moved on.

  47. 47
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Corner Stone: What is that “battle” supposed to be? What are they supposed to fight for? Because if you want more than the other party is offering, isn’t the only way to get them to come up going to take time?

    IMHO it’s worth more to get started fast than to delay before getting it perfect. And to me it’s very hard to see why “We need $1.4T now!” can’t be rebutted with “But we don’t really know… why not $700B now and $700B later, and see how it goes?” How do you win that argument?

  48. 48
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Brachiator: I agree with Mnemosyne and others, who have been saying that “we needed more then” should be retired and “we need more now” promoted in its place.

  49. 49
    burnspbesq says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    a huge number percentage of progressives pissed off at the Democrats and the White House for being too Republican

    Fixed. There is not now, and never has been, a huge number of progressives in this country. Which is why they are basically irrelevant to the Obama Administration.

  50. 50
    Brachiator says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    I agree with Mnemosyne and others, who have been saying that “we needed more then” should be retired and “we need more now” promoted in its place.

    This is still dubious. Apart from the political difficulty in getting another stimulus through, the general notion that a stimulus is a good idea has to be broken down into actual proposals of how much and how directed.

    And most stuff that I have read lately seems to veer away from spending to create jobs as quickly as possible to long term investments in various pet programs.

    @burnspbesq:

    There is not now, and never has been, a huge number of progressives in this country. Which is why they are basically irrelevant to the Obama Administration.

    Amen to this. Progressive foot-stomping seems to concentrate on the notion that Obama should listen to them because they have all the cool ideas, and ignore the hard political reality that progressives cannot consistently win elections.

  51. 51
    burnspbesq says:

    @cat48:

    You see the bloggers at HuffPo told Obama last yr to get rid of Timmy & nationalize the damn banks and O still hasn’t listened!

    When you drill into the second-quarter results posted by the big banks last week, you find that the principal reason why they posted increased profits despite a decline in revenue is a significant reduction in additions to loan loss reserves – which, if true, is the closest thing to unambiguously good news we’ve gotten on the financial front in a while.

    Now, that number (as JMN will attest) is the sort of accounting judgment call that can be manipulated, but if it’s an accurate reflection of reality I’d like to see the HuffPo folks ‘splain how whether the banks had been nationalized would have made a damn bit of difference in that number.

  52. 52
    Davis X. Machina says:

    There is not now, and never has been, a huge number of progressives in this country.

    There’s a magic size to a pressure group — c.f. the teahadis for one — where it’s simultaneously too small to make any real difference, but still large enough to do real damage.

  53. 53
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Davis X. Machina: The teabaggers have the luxury of knowing that if their insurgent candidate loses, the worst that can happen is getting a plain vanilla Democrat in his place. But we have to realize that if our insurgent candidate loses, the worst that can happen is a full-bore 24/7 freakshow. Maybe I just lack nerve, but I just don’t want to risk that; and, yes, I’m also aware that people like me are also the reason why Democrats as a whole are less liberal-populist than they could be, because my mentality of risk-aversion abets their own risk-aversion. But that’s how horrible Republican rule is.

  54. 54
    Brachiator says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    The teabaggers have the luxury of knowing that if their insurgent candidate loses, the worst that can happen is getting a plain vanilla Democrat in his place. But we have to realize that if our insurgent candidate loses, the worst that can happen is a full-bore 24/7 freakshow.

    Since tea baggers often find that an incumbent Republican is pure enough for them, I doubt that they would take much comfort from seeing a “plain vanilla” Democrat win.

    Also, the tea baggers haven’t been around long enough to have much of a coherent political strategy.

  55. 55
    Corner Stone says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    And to me it’s very hard to see why “We need $1.4T now!” can’t be rebutted with “But we don’t really know… why not $700B now and $700B later, and see how it goes?” How do you win that argument?

    IMO, it was obvious

    at the time

    that there would never be two bites at the apple. It was predictable and understood that Republicans were going to bash the hell out of the stimulus ~ no matter the size. It was a failure before it ever left the lips of the first person to propose it.
    If you accept that premise, which I do, then it makes absolutely no sense to not put on the full press to get an amount that made economic sense. There were several postulates about how much that should be, some using formulas and historical research.
    IIRC, and I believe I do because I was paying attention, the proposed stimulus was noted as too small by people I believe to have a modicum of credibility before the number was floated for passage. It also didn’t make sense to me, personally, how they arrived at their number but I do not have a Nobel.

    IMO, it’s very easy for people to blather about and say the amount was all that was going to be passed ~ and that’s just the way it is because obviously…that’s the amount that was passed.
    But if you believe reports since then, you have Larry Summers basically omitting the suggestion of Romer and you have Rahm saying it’s politically impossible (and if Obama had listened to Rahm’s fantastic political judgment we most likely wouldn’t have HCR passed right now).
    ISTM, the possibility exists that basing the stimulus on pretty easy to understand concepts, then making a couple of very short sound bites to support that outcome could’ve returned a different result.
    We’ll never know though, will we?

  56. 56
    MattR says:

    @Unabogie:

    Doesn’t anyone think Geithner cares about himself, when his only job is to help fix the economy? Why would he care more about “buddies” when his ass is on the line?

    I am not jumping on the blame Geithner bandwagon, but I think there is a major gap in your logic. I don’t see how Geithner’s ass is on the line in any way. What is the worst possible outcome for him? There is a strong argument to be made that he doesn’t care if he gets fired from the administration since he will just end up with a cushy, high paying job with one of those “buddies”.

  57. 57
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Brachiator: No, I know, to them all Democrats are impure. I just mean that the risk of uncontrollable radicalism is far less real on the Democratic side than on the Republican side, and I have to think that even run-of-the-mill Republicans recognize that — even if Tea Partiers think every Democrat is at heart a Stalinist. I hope.

  58. 58
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Corner Stone:

    ISTM, the possibility exists that basing the stimulus on pretty easy to understand concepts, then making a couple of very short sound bites to support that outcome could’ve returned a different result.

    I disagree, not because your sense of what would have worked better is wrong — it’s not, and I believe the same people you do — but because there’s no easy way to say that the magic amount is utterly and completely necessary and not one penny less will do. The need for “stimulus” is easy to articulate, but the need for a huger-than-huge stimulus is not.

    And it seems to me that the $1T threshold was, logically, where the “centrists” would start to get very, very nervous. I don’t think writing it up for $2T and then bargaining down would have ended up higher than writing it up for $1.4T and then bargaining down, and it was going to be bargained down because of a presumption that Democrats always want to spend, so it’s the function of “centrists” to rein it in. That’s why that swath of the rightmost Dems and leftmost Repubs _kept doing that_ with all the early initiatives: “You want $X? Too much. How about you knock 10% off the top?”

    ISTM that the equilibrium point between “big enough to have a tangible effect fiscally” and “small enough to demonstrate ‘fiscal restraint’ politically” is probably right where they ended up, with a price tag enough below $1T that it couldn’t be called $1T.

    And also ISTM that it would be politically _very_ rough to open yourself up to an ad like, “Faced with an emergency, we were willing to borrow $700B to rescue this economy. But the Democrats said that that much free money just wasn’t enough for them. Does their appetite for spending have _any_ limits?” I just don’t think “$700B is too little” has a lot of resonance.

  59. 59
    Corner Stone says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    And also ISTM that it would be politically very rough to open yourself up to an ad like, “Faced with an emergency, we were willing to borrow $700B to rescue this economy. But the Democrats said that that much free money just wasn’t enough for them. Does their appetite for spending have any limits?”

    And it seems to me that we’re now open to ads that say, “Democrats demanded to borrow $700B to help the little guy. With almost 10% unemployment and home foreclosures at record levels, how’s that working out for you?”

    My thought is that $500B, $800B or $1.2T, no matter the amount the D’s were going to be pummeled in ads for being tax and spend and adding to the deficit. That’s just the M O.
    So why not take the initiative and make your play?
    Do we think that when the ads are cut people who get red faced hearing $800B would be more red faced if they heard $1.2T? Like there’s a conceptual difference?
    I don’t have any polling on this but it strikes me that hearing someone say the words “hundred billion” has more impact than the words “one trillion”. But that’s just my opinion.

  60. 60

    Hillary would not have passed no stimulus, she would have used the cash to turn Iran into a parking lot, and what was left over, bought herself a pair of Clenis shears.

  61. 61
    Brachiator says:

    @FlipYrWhig:
    No, I know, to them all Democrats are impure. I just mean that the risk of uncontrollable radicalism is far less real on the Democratic side than on the Republican side, and I have to think that even run-of-the-mill Republicans recognize that—even if Tea Partiers think every Democrat is at heart a Stalinist.
    OK. I see more what you mean. Thanks for the clarification.

    The irony is that GOP policy, deregulate everything, free markets uber alles, what’s good for business is good for America, is fairly radical but gets pitched as “mainstream” values.

    ISTM that the equilibrium point between “big enough to have a tangible effect fiscally” and “small enough to demonstrate ‘fiscal restraint’ politically” is probably right where they ended up, with a price tag enough below $1T that it couldn’t be called $1T.

    You have a good point here. Although some progressive pundits want to insist that everybody just knew that the stimulus had to be huge, this is not borne out by much of the reporting at the time. A CNBC story led with this tortured headline, Obama’s Stimulus Package: Will It Be Too Big To Work?

    And there was debate on the size and composition of the stimulus.

    If so, economists say pragmatism, not politics, should drive the stimulus timeline. The simpler the packager, the greater the chance for swift approval, shortly after the new president’s inauguration.
    __
    “You don’t have to have everything,” says Baker. “It could be a downpayment. Take the easy things first.”
    __
    If that’s the case, then what’s in that downpayment? Based on a survey of economists, it’s a combination of individual tax cuts, aid to cash-strapped cities and states, and ready-to-go infrastructure spending.
    __
    Up front, headlined and focused on big actions that have quick effect on aggregate demand are the key criteria.

    The idea that there was any consensus that a big stimulus was necessary and sure to succeed is just not the case. Even economist James Galbraith, who argued for a bigger stimulus, admitted that he was betting his gut, not hard analysis. From a HuffPo article.

    “They’re taking the word of technicians who are running a model that has no financial sector in it,” repeats Galbraith, noting that during the Great Depression “the collapse of the banking sector was critical to the collapse and lack of resilience in the economy.” There was no economic modeling being done in the 1920s or 1930s, however.
    __
    Not even Galbraith, however, is absolutely certain that he and others who are similarly sour on the size of the stimulus are correct. We live in an uncertain world, as Robert Rubin likes to say.

  62. 62
    Liz says:

    There are Republicans/Conservatives in various states, who didn’t even vote for/support the stimulus, who are boldly running/bolstering themselves on successes of it. Of course these Republican’s don’t admit that it’s the stimulus that created X,Y,Z/opportunities for X,Y,Z…they go right along bashing the stimulus while still taking/seeking credit for the jobs, etc. it did, in fact, create.

  63. 63
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Do we think that when the ads are cut people who get red faced hearing $800B would be more red faced if they heard $1.2T? Like there’s a conceptual difference?

    I think there is. “Not million. Not billion. A _trillion_ dollars.”

    And, again, I agree that it’s a stupid kind of hesitation and failure of nerve, but I’m talking about the way center-to-right Democrats see it, and what they see as their political vulnerabilities. And there aren’t just the five who tend to get in the news to reckon with, there are probably more like 25… most of whom are persuadable… some more easily than others, including some who have to be dragged leftwards with one of those cranes they use to build stadiums. That whole group is very hard to pressure or threaten. That, to me, is the Gordian knot for the Obama presidency and for liberal politics in general: how can we nudge the center-to-right Dems, especially those representing red states, to support what we want, when there are so many other incentives for them _not_ to? I don’t have any good ideas about that.

    For now, I think there are more rewards in pushing to replace the blue and blueish state Republicans with more liberal Democrats, like Conlin over Grassley in IA and Fisher over Portman in OH (formerly Voinovich) and Marshall over Burr in NC and Hodes over Ayotte in NH (formerly Gregg), thereby minimizing the leverage of the center-to-right Dems in overarching party strategy.

  64. 64
    Corner Stone says:

    @Brachiator:

    Even economist James Galbraith, who argued for a bigger stimulus, admitted that he was betting his gut, not hard analysis. From a HuffPo article.

    You radically, and horribly, misled what Galbraith said in that article.
    I suggest others read the entire article here:
    Galbraith on Stim
    Which is ironically enough titled , “Why the stimulus is too small”.
    The quote you use for Galbraith is incredibly misleading.
    This quote better sums up his thought process:

    In the same way, if the government follows the Galbraithian advice to go big and spends everything it can to turn the economy around and it goes too far, the worst thing you get is some inflation – which can be pulled back with interest rate hikes – and a higher national debt. (The Senate version raises the debt ceiling to $13 trillion.)

    And this one:

    “Use them all,” suggests economist James Galbraith. “If it turns out that you’ve used too many, then you’ve got extra sandbags. Big deal. If you use too few, they’re all destroyed.”

    And this one:

    Galbraith, too, says that demonstrating that the stimulus is too small is a matter of basic math. The $400 billion it will inject into the economy each of the next two years is equal to about two to three percent of GDP, he noted. But the economy is falling at a much faster rate, projected at eight percent a year by the CBO – and that projection, again, doesn’t account for the financial collapse.
    __
    If it’s too small, how is it, then, that economic models like the Congressional Budget Office’s show that the economy will turn around sometime in 2009 or 2010?
    __
    The harsh reality: they’re just guessing. And they’re guessing based on economic models, says Galbraith, that have been built post-World War II and don’t take into account the collapse of the financial sector. Instead, they assume the credit markets will be there to help ease the nation out of the downturn.

    IOW, that’s some dishonest shit you’re trying to pull.

  65. 65
    Brachiator says:

    @Corner Stone:

    IOW, that’s some dishonest shit you’re trying to pull.

    I quoted Galbraith. You provided a link to the full article. Anything nefarious that you want to read into this is your own little fantasy.

    Galbraith smartly did not argue that a bigger stimulus was guaranteed to work. And the author of the HuffPo piece, Ryan Grim’s blithe dismissal of the consequences of the failure of a big stimulus to recharge the economy, that if a big stimulus didn’t work, the government could just raise interest rates and increase the national debt indicates that he doesn’t understand politics at all.

    Galbraith appears to suggest that the stimulus should have been at least $1.25 trillion, and implies that the federal government should pony up an amount greater than the projected decline in GDP (this is his reference to “basic math”). This is a bold proposal, but he is oracular about exactly why a federal stimulus should be almost a one for one match for GDP decline.

  66. 66
    Corner Stone says:

    @Brachiator: The article cites Galbraith, Baker and Krugman all saying essentially the same thing, with Senators Nelson and Baucus providing the counter.
    To use it as an argument against a larger stimulus being needed is dishonest.

    ETA – your quote: “The idea that there was any consensus that a big stimulus was necessary and sure to succeed is just not the case. Even economist James Galbraith, who argued for a bigger stimulus, admitted that he was betting his gut, not hard analysis.”

    To try and use it this way is not accurate as any cursory reading displays.

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