Ready, Fire, Aim: Obama Signs "Stimulus" Bill

No worries — Sasha and Malia’s kids will pay for it

Michael Gerson describes the porkulus legislation signed by President Obama yesterday:

The bill was written in monopartisan secrecy, weighed down by irrelevant spending, considered in a rushed, uninformed debate and passed on a virtually party-line vote. The law contains provisions that seem to weaken welfare reform and invite trade disputes. And it adds a massive burden of debt to existing massive entitlement obligations requiring massive borrowing from international sources — or, if such credit dries up, the massive printing of money to buy these bonds, leading to inflation. 

Sounds like Gerson opposes the bill. Well, no:

But while the legislation was deeply flawed, there was little alternative to action. The usual recession remedy — the lowering of interest rates by the Federal Reserve to loosen up credit and spending — is of little use when the credit system itself is broken and rates are already near zero. The president and Congress were left with one option: attempting a fiscal jolt to counter the economic cycle. Such efforts in the past have often been mistimed, with the cavalry arriving just after the settlers have been massacred. But one has to try. In this case, necessity was the mother of excess. 

For political reasons, I suppose it’s true that “one has to try.” But one does wish that one could be more confident about the outcome while saddling one’s grandchildren with debt.

After weeks of invoking the Great Depression, Obama performed what Politico referred to as a “rhetorical pirouette” while signing the bill:

In his remarks, Obama projected an air of confidence. “We will leave the struggling economy behind us and come out more prosperous,” he vowed. 

Well, one hopes he’s right. But since Obama brought up the Depression, let’s take a look at what has been learned from the historical record:

The recession that began in 2008 could turn out to be the worst slowdown since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. For three-quarters of a century, economists have been studying it diligently. And even now they cannot come to a definitive conclusion about the cause of that depression, the reasons for its severity and duration, or what cured it. In an introduction to a book of essays on the Great Depression he compiled in 2000, Ben S. Bernanke, then a Princeton professor and now chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, wrote, “Finding an explanation for the worldwide economic collapse of the 1930’s remains a fascinating intellectual challenge.” 

Today, of course, the challenge is more than intellectual.

My wife has threatened to stop reading my blog because it’s so depressing, so I’ve just spent 20 minutes staring at the screen, trying to think of a positive way to end this post. Here’s the best I can muster: I still think comparisons with the Great Depression are overwrought. But even after that dark period, America did “leave the struggling economy behind us and come out more prosperous.” I have no doubt we will do so again, eventually.

Sweetie, I’ll let you know when I’ve changed the subject.

(Photo: AP, via Washington Times)

5 thoughts on “Ready, Fire, Aim: Obama Signs "Stimulus" Bill

  1. Such is the life of the life of the party, Kirk. ;))

    I think it’s premature to doom the move to demise as much as I think it’s premature to say it’ll work verbatim. What I’d personally love to see is less partisan lining up and more digging in because frankly, both sides are guilty, both sides are responsible, and finger pointing does nothing more than prolong the agony for everyone.

    Just a thought from a registered voter. 🙂

  2. Lori, I can be a lot of fun at a party — just don’t get me started on politics. 🙂

    I understand your point about wanting “less partisan lining up,” but I’m afraid I have to disagree. The clash of ideas is part of the bedrock of American success. The bill may have been signed, but the implementation will be more important, and that has not yet begun.

    I do think it’s important to keep one’s criticisms aimed at policy, not personality. Which brings me to…

    Mike, thank you for stopping by to comment, but I reject the idea that this or any American president is a “joke.” (The pork bill I’ll give you.) I didn’t vote for Mr. Obama, but he’s my president too.

  3. Kirk, you brighten up any party. 🙂

    I’m thinking the clash of ideas – good thing. The blindly lining up behind party thinking – bad idea. And there is plenty of the latter going on, which concerns me.

    I had the good fortune of editing/helping compile an upcoming book for a Republican legislator. Her insights into how good ideas die in the midst of power struggles, how party politics do not align with what needs to be done, and how young politicians are taught early that speaking out against party opinion is political death lead me to believe the goal is often sacrificed for the advancement of careers, pet projects, etc. While she highlighted the view from her party side, she indicated that the Dems, while a bit more supportive of female counterparts, played the same games.

    Like I said, I’m all for the clash of ideas, but not the loss of perspective that comes with following blindly party sentimentn.

  4. Lori, you make a good distinction. Sometimes partisan power struggles are about principles and values, in which case I think they are a good and necessary thing. For example, I reject the idea that more Republicans should have supported the porkulus bill in the name of bipartisanship. The fact that that Republicans in the House unanimously opposed it probably has at least a little to do with party discipline, but by and large the members were voting their principles.

    But sometimes partisan power struggles are more about gaining an advantage for one’s own team, regardless of principle or validity. That’s when it becomes toxic.

    And of course, there’s not always a bright line separating the two. If I’m a legislator and I truly believe my party’s general platform is better for America, I might be inclined to vote with my party even if, in a close call, I think the opposition may have a better argument on a particular issue.

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