The stimulus package laboriously working its way through Congress has huge implications, both politically and economically, for our generation and for students especially.
The plan contains many billions of dollars in targeted aid to state education budgets, and with the furloughs, program cuts and construction stoppages due to lack of funds, that aid is desperately needed. The fate of the stimulus rests largely on the ability of the president not only to compose an effective plan, but to get it passed in a politically expedient matter. Unfortunately, he seems to be failing on both counts.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the stimulus debate thus far is watching network news bend over backwards to fellate the GOP and other inherently conservative business interests (coincidentally, network news is one such inherently conservative business interest). According to ThinkProgress.com, Republican congressmen critical of the stimulus appeared on major television broadcasts at more than twice the frequency of Democratic supporters, 51 to 24, on Jan. 26, 27 and 28.
Media’s also had the habit lately of loudly parroting GOP talking points based on what turned out to be a nonexistent Congressional Budget Office analysis which purportedly called into question the efficacy of the stimulus.
At first this would seem to be a relief; the GOP was finally basing their policy on data. The only problem was that the CBO had issued no such analysis on the stimulus. None. And when the CBO did issue a report, it directly contradicted the assertions made by the GOP, which quickly dismissed the CBO as partisan. The GOP, it seems, would no longer be appealing to actual economists with access to information.
Instead, they’re appealing to all sorts of interesting people, like Joe the Plumber. That’s right, Joe-the-fucking-Plumber just gave a talk on the stimulus to GOP congressmen this Wednesday. This sort of thing has upset a lot of economists, and rightfully so. After all their study, data collection and model construction, and despite a general consensus among economists about what should be done, the public face of the profession is one of complete chaos.
Thanks to Fox News, we see a parade of “senior fellows,” “research specialists,” and “policy analysts“ like Amity Shlaes, William Kristol and Ben Stein (who urged people to buy stock in investment banks back in 2007) appearing on TV as though it was Take-Your-Political-Lapdog-to-Work Day. Across the networks, these economic kindergarteners are inexplicably given equal time with, and regarded as equally credible to, professional economists like Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman and Mark Zandi.
Mark Zandi is an interesting case, because despite his post as a former McCain economic advisor, he shamelessly produces research that supports a massive stimulus plan driven by government spending, not by tax cuts. So really, there’s not a whole lot of disagreement among intellectually honest economists about the current situation. That conservatives have to dig this deep into the ideological dustbin to find people willing to embarrass themselves so publicly betrays just how desperate they are in the wake of their failed world view.
Yet Obama has been banging his head against the brick wall that is that failed world view, attempting to break through and reach common ground. He’s met repeatedly with GOP leaders, made tax cuts a third of the stimulus and cut infrastructure spending and various green initiatives to make room for Republican appeasement. But all he got was the big “fuck you” from every Republican in the House, and as of this writing, it appears the Republicans are going to filibuster in the Senate.
Despite this, reports are coming out that the administration is keeping the lid on Democratic congressmen who want to go after Republicans for their obstructionism. Why? The White House wants to court moderates, and they’re scared criticism will galvanize the GOP. Problem is, almost all the moderate Republicans got replaced by Democrats in 2006 and 2008 (and one, Judd Gregg, just got nominated for Commerce Secretary, even though he voted to abolish the Department of Commerce in the ’90s. All that’s left now are the hard-core conservatives. And as I always say, you can lead a Republican to reason, but you can’t make him think.
Consider Michael Steele, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee. Shortly after being elected, he explained his strategy for relating to opponents: “We’re going to say … ‘We want you to be a part of us, we want you to with be with us, and for those who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over.‘”
This coming from the party that filibustered 142 times (more than double the previous record) in the last session of Congress and continues to behave like a spoiled brat at the supermarket; crying violently and refusing to budge because mommy won’t buy him a candy bar. Steele also seems to believe that “not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job.“ Which is interesting, because I was under the impression that my parents, both teachers, were employed. Guess not.
This is the same partisan chicanery that’s been going on for decades, and it just keeps getting more ridiculous. Plainly, there is no bipartisan consensus to be reached here; the Republicans have a diametrically opposed economic philosophy. This philosophy has been implemented rigorously for 20 of the past 28 years (if you’re generous enough to regard the Clinton era as any significant deviation), and it has failed.
Yet they continue to push this philosophy, especially in regards to tax cuts, regardless of the situation. When times are good, tax cuts are good because government revenue is up and Americans deserve to keep more of their prosperity. When times are bad, tax cuts are still good because deficits don’t matter and lower taxes are needed to boost consumption. It’s complete rubbish, of course, but it’s slavishly worshipped rubbish. And that makes it dangerous.
Thus, no matter how hard he tries, Obama is not going to get GOP support; there will be no dual accountability, and his half-ass, concession-riddled stimulus will fail to deliver as a result of his bipartisan delusion. As Representative Barney Frank put it, “He overestimates his ability to take people – particularly our colleagues on the right – and sort of charm them into being nice.… When he talks about being post partisan, having seen [the current GOP leadership] and knowing what they would do in that situation, I suffer from post-partisan depression.“
Obama’s softball politics have justified Frank’s quip, and the Republicans are licking their chops. Minority Whip Jon Kyl elucidated the GOP’s strategy for the stimulus, “In six months or so, when the American people say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not better off … ‘ Republicans then are going to be in a position to say, “We didn’t have the input in this and that’s why it didn’t work.‘” Basically, they’re pulling a Limbaugh: they want Obama to fail, want to starve state budgets, want to shut down the social safety net, want people to lose their jobs, their health care and their pensions. They want this because if people blame Obama, 2010 and 2012 won’t get here soon enough.
But Obama may finally be getting the message that compromise is impossible. On Wednesday he said that GOP criticisms “echo the very same failed economic theories that led us into this crisis in the first place – the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems, that we can ignore fundamental challenges like energy independence and the high cost of health care … and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.”
This is a good thing, because unless he can create a PR nightmare for the GOP by painting them as obstructionist relics, he will fail, per their wishes. As I wrote just after he was elected, “Obama must hammer aggressively that he’s out to undo the damage of the past 40 years of Republican driven neo-liberal economics. If he doesn’t, progressivism will retreat even further than it has since Nixon in the face of the coming conservative onslaught and our own economic amnesia.“
Representative Kyl is betting that Obama’s too scared to pull the trigger, and frankly I’m still willing to bet the same. But this is one bet I hope I lose, for all our sakes.
K.C. CODY sees some light at the end of the tunnel, but fears it’s a freight train comin‘ our way. Ease, or stoke, his fears at email@example.com.