Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 8, 2009

STIMULUS SPEECH.... It's not especially common for presidents-elect to give major policy addresses two weeks before Inauguration Day, but watching Barack Obama's speech in northern Virginia this morning, we were reminded that these are not ordinary times.

Watching the speech, it seemed to have a State-of-the-Union-like feel. Obama was addressing the public, but he also went out of his way to repeatedly urge Congress to deliver an economic rescue package immediately. Obama told lawmakers to resist the urge to pack earmarks into the bill, and repeatedly pressed members to get to work: "I urge Congress to move as quickly as possible..."; "Congress [must] act without delay..."; "I'm asking Congress to work with me and my team day and night, on weekends if necessary, to get the plan passed in the next few weeks."

On a related note, Obama also stressed the importance of speed. He described a crisis that is so severe, that every day of delay makes matters worse. Obama talked about the need for "dramatic action as soon as possible," and warned of the dire consequences of inaction.

"I know the scale of this plan is unprecedented," Obama said, "but so is the severity of our situation. We have already tried the wait-and-see approach to our problems, and it is the same approach that helped lead us to this day of reckoning. That is why the time has come to build a 21st century economy in which hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded." To that end, Obama described an ambitious vision on energy, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and closing loopholes that "allow Wall Street wrongdoers to slip through regulatory cracks."

But here's the part of the speech that, at least politically, was the most important:

"It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy -- where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.

"That is why we need to act boldly and act now to reverse these cycles. That's why we need to put money in the pockets of the American people, create new jobs, and invest in our future. That's why we need to re-start the flow of credit and restore the rules of the road that will ensure a crisis like this never happens again."

Reagan told us that government "is the problem." Clinton told us the "era of big government is over." And Obama wants America to know that government is the "only" institution that's capable of addressing an economic crisis of this severity.

For all of the talk in recent weeks about the president-elect's ideology and partisan fealty, this speech was a reminder of the importance of government activism in a time of overwhelming challenges. And that, at its core, is an inescapably liberal message.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Awesome... we have an intelligent, rational president who can speak coherently.

Obama is doing exactly what he needs to do... speak directly to the people.

If the people become motivated the republican obstructionists won't be able to derail progressive action.

Hopefully the american people will respond.

Posted by: Buford on January 8, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

It is so nice to have a rational, intelligent, well-spoken leader for a change. I only wish he were coming into office under better circumstances. This financial mess will take years to unravel.

Posted by: independent thinker on January 8, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

The usual procedure for bills to emerge from Congress over the past several years has been:

a) Democrats recognize a problem and begin to suggest a solution.

b) The Republicans object with bumpersticker slogans -- 'Tax and spend', 'big government', 'protecting terrorists', etc.

c) Democrats retreat and offer a middle solution.

d) Republicans dig in their heels and promise to block any bill that doesn't stay within conservative orthodoxy.

e) Democrats take to the airways and declare that they intend to force a showdown and that they will never abandon their principles and that they will fight to defend ordinary Americans and the Constitution.

f) The Democrats abandon their principles (while insisting that they aren't) and pretend that the conservative orthodoxy that they're voting for *is* what's necessary to defend ordinary Americans and the Constitution.

Congress had better get on the ball. The clock's ticking and the Democrats haven't even made their first retreat yet.

Posted by: SteveT on January 8, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, he speaks to us of urgency and yet he also is willing, it seems, to hold out for unrealistic bipartisanship. The Dems are such wimps that, as long as there is but one Republican in govt, the ideas for change in the Obama administration will be held hostage. If we've learned anything by the way the Rethugs ran everything in the cataclysmic Bush years, it is how to get your agenda accomplished in spite of opposition. And yet, the Dems will continue to behave as if they don't have commanding majority. Very frustrating indeed!

Posted by: Frak on January 8, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Jeeze - doesn't he realize that the Florida/Oklahoma game is tonight??

Posted by: Ethel-To-Tilly on January 8, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK
For all of the talk in recent weeks about the president-elect's ideology and partisan fealty, this speech was a reminder of the importance of government activism in a time of overwhelming challenges. And that, at its core, is an inescapably liberal message.

This is beyond the grasp of tunnel-visioned single-noters on DU and DKos...

Posted by: Radha on January 8, 2009 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent article at Open Left on Obama's proposed policies. It looks at reality with the blinders off.

Posted by: impartial on January 8, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Radha, you got to the DFH crowd before I could. I was just over at Dkos to see what the reporting is on the speech and . . . they are recommending diaries echoing the WSJ. Seriously, they've moved from making fun of the MSM to being a cycle behind it.

Posted by: Media Browski on January 8, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

The speech inspired me, as Obama quite often does. I felt a wee bit better. Then I began to imagine the political infighting which is sure to follow. Felt less better.

Patrick Buchanan often uses the imagery of people with pitchforks storming the ramparts. I wish that the progressives build bridges of common cause with the less progressive lower middle class and start handing out the pitchforks. There must be an energized wave of people power showing desire for these things to happen.

Powerful interests in Congress will try to pare this down by using their oft successful divide and conquer tactics. Ideas that are good and just will not be enough, nor will the support of the liberal blogosphere. Large groups of agitated voters applying pressure will be necessary. And that is what we need to work to create.

Posted by: Keith G on January 8, 2009 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Can't you people see Obama has already sold out: tax cuts combined with cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare.How does this differ from Bush's policies?

Posted by: impartial on January 8, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Times like this put the lie to Reagan's famous dictum.

Saying government is the problem is like saying you car battery is "the problem" because it drains power from the engine. Of course, when you're trying to start the engine, that marginal loss of efficency seems like a pretty reasonable idea.

Similarly, taxes and goverment regulations do make the economy marginally less efficient than it could be, and you can't run the economy on government largesse any more than you can run a car off the battery alone, but when the economy is stalled, it sure does help to be able to give it a "kick-start."

The neo-Hooverite Republicans, on the other hand would prescribe a dead battery as the fix for a stalled car.

Posted by: Chesire11 on January 8, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Impartial, you need to review Obama's policies or just go hang at Dkos if that's really your question.

Posted by: Media Browski on January 8, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Only one mention here of what the stimulus might do for the housing market, which is at the center of the storm: "It means launching a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis so that we can keep responsible families in their homes."

Wouldn't it also be good to make homes affordable to regular working people again? Fix Housing First was agitating for a specific housing stimulus with 2.99% interest rates and so forth. Has anyone heard more about that? Is any legislation forthcoming that would get people investing again (with legitimate banks, of course).

Posted by: Gaia on January 8, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

The easy part is over.Now that we have talked ourselves in to the fooliish belief,we can spend or borrow our way to prosperity. Let us get on with the experiment. If some one would issue a stock in this scheme,I would happily sell it short for you.

Posted by: EC Sedgwick on January 8, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Media Browski

You need to read the New York Times today and an insightful commentary on this at Open Left. Please take the blinders off and inform yourself.

Posted by: impartial on January 8, 2009 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

President-elect to end economic crisis in under 45 minutes of talking
Watch full Obamas Economic Recovery Speech:
watch here
Recommended!

Posted by: wanderfus on January 8, 2009 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

"The Dems are such wimps that..."

Exactly why Obama needs to speak directly to the people. Left to itself, the congress is beholden to big money, and will do next to nothing that actually helps the people.

If americans finally wake up they can force congress to act. (but that's a big if)

Posted by: buford on January 8, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Can't you people see Obama has already sold out: tax cuts combined with cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare.How does this differ from Bush's policies?

The tax cuts are directed at the middle class and working poor, where they benefit more people, help stimulate the economy far better than Bush's cuts ever did, and make the tax code slightly more progressive. Bush's tax cuts were directed at the wealthy, where they served mainly to make the rich richer and to make the tax code much less progressive.

Since we don't know the details of how or to what extent Obama will attempt to reform Social Security or Medicare, it seems silly to complain that they're exactly the same thing as, say, privatizing Social Security or whatever it is that you imagine is really going on. It's helpful to wait until we have information about what's being proposed before we make judgments about whether the ideas are any good.

Posted by: Aaron on January 8, 2009 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Impartial, yup, the NYT and OL, great primary sources you got there.

Posted by: Keith G on January 8, 2009 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Media Browski, I hoped there might be a small chance that at least after Obama (or even any Dem) wins, the loony left-roots might wake up and smell the big picture for at least a few months to at least celebrate our victory.

Alas, that is too much to expect from the crowd that did this to Obama way back when!

Posted by: Radha on January 8, 2009 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK


Media Brewski:
Your primary sources are outdated campaign promises. The man is quoted from a speech he gave earlier. Apparently you cant believe what he says either.

The truth is these policies attack the poorest among us. it's a despicable betrayal.

Posted by: impartial on January 8, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently it is also true that if you're not a sycophant, you're not welcome here.

Posted by: impartial on January 8, 2009 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently it is also true that if you're not a sycophant, you're not welcome here.

Boo hoo. No one said you weren't welcome. But if you can't defend your statements, don't cry when people challenge them.

Posted by: shortstop on January 8, 2009 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

I defended my statements. It's you people who can't open your eyes and be objective for a moment. It's kool aid or nothing.

Posted by: impartial on January 8, 2009 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Huh. I would've thought you were the only one here being all-or-nothing. Thanks for 'splainin' how that works in your world.

Posted by: shortstop on January 8, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

After a quick look on teh Goolges:

Headline:

Obama vows cutback in Social Security

One graph down:

Mr. Obama didn't say how he would control the two major entitlement programs, instead promising details in February.

Source:

Washington Times

Posted by: Keith G on January 8, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Right on!

While it ought to be obvious to any sentient being that the private sector can not turn this recession around quickly, the general population requires these reminders - especially when the Republicans continue to demonstrate their political and economic Tourette's: Reagan, Reagan, tax cuts, tax cuts.

What's that about, anyway?

Posted by: nepat on January 8, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

I defended my statements.

Your "defense" was "Nuh-uh, because I say so!"

Please present some actual evidence instead of rumors to support what you're saying, or be prepared to be treated as a hysteric.

Personally, I would prefer evidence from a more credible source than the Washington Times, especially since it looks like there are no other sources for the story.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 8, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK
Reagan told us that government "is the problem." Clinton told us the "era of big government is over." And Obama wants America to know that government is the "only" institution that's capable of addressing an economic crisis of this severity.

Superficially, this looks like Reagan and Clinton being on the same side and Obama being on the other; I think substantively, though, that misses the point; Reagan, in a move that makes sense neither under any economic theory nor under his own anti-government rhetoric, greatly expanded the debt:GDP ratio even through what were, in aggregate terms, strong periods of economic expansion (though not as bad as Bush the Elder did after him.) Clinton, again during a period of strong expansion, matched his rhetoric with action slowed and ultimately reversed the growth of the debt:GDP ratio. Obama, entering office in a time of deep recession, is engaging in rhetoric promoting the role of government in that environment, and proposing an expanded role of government combined with tax cuts -- e.g., expanding the debt:GDP ratio in an expansionary effort.

Both Clinton's and Obama's rhetoric and concrete policy actions (in the former case) and proposals (in the latter case) make broad sense if viewed as expressions of the idea that the government should act countercyclically, reducing debt as a share of GDP in good times to preserve capacity to respond to crisis, but becoming more active and allowing that share to expand during the response to major crises.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 8, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

It's the New York Times not the Washington Times which I do not read. The uh uh ing exists only on the part of those here in denial of reality.
Every other liberal blog has noted the problem except this one. The reason is obvious: one cannot criticize Obama here even when he goes back on his word. Sad sycophants.

Posted by: impartial on January 8, 2009 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

...only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.
We're not in recession; we're in poverty from astronomical government spending and public and private debt. Nothing like some more spending to add fuel to the fire.

Posted by: Luther on January 9, 2009 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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