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Tilting at Windmills

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March 10, 2009

BROOKS' MIXED BAG.... The NYT's David Brooks explains in his column today that the Republican response to the economic crisis is "totally misguided." Brooks explained that GOP lawmakers have "apparently decided that it's easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand."

So far, so good. Brooks' take on the Republicans' pre-recession mindset is both accurate and encouraging. Then, however, Brooks had to ruin things by presenting his GOP allies with an alternate agenda for them to embrace.

First, they'd take the current economic crisis more seriously than the Democrats. The Obama budget projects that the recession will be mild this year and the economy will come surging back in 2010. Democrats apparently think that dealing with the crisis is a part-time job, which leaves the afternoons free to work on long-range plans to reform education, health care, energy and a dozen smaller things. Democrats are counting on a quick recovery to help pay for these long-term projects.

Republicans could point out that this crisis is not just an opportunity to do other things. It's a bloomin' emergency.... Republicans could argue that it's Nero-esque for Democrats to be plotting extensive renovations when the house is on fire.

Sigh.

Brooks presents this as if it were a novel idea, untested and ignored by Republicans. That's clearly mistaken -- GOP lawmakers have been pushing this exact line for a while now, which is why so many media figures are asking about Obama being "distracted," and "doing too much at once."

But more to the point, Brooks continues to see White House initiatives on health care and energy as annoying tangents. To even consider these policies is to give the economy short shrift. Brooks dismisses these measures as "renovations" to a burning house -- as if health care and energy reform would be nice, were it not for the crisis.

It's the exact same argument Brooks made just seven days ago, when he said Democrats seem to be "caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once."

Brooks continues to see these issues in isolation. He shouldn't. As Ezra Klein said last week, responding to Brooks' call for Obama to tackle problems more slowly, "If a patient has cancer and heart disease, her doctor doesn't have the luxury of treating only one or the other."

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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So Brooks says that instead of repeating scripted talking points, the Republicans should repeat scripted talking points. Yawn.

The key point to remember is that when Republicans say that Obama should deal with the financial crisis instead of, or before, dealing with energy, climate change, health care or education, that what Republicans mean by "dealing with the financial crisis" is "implement Republican policies that enrich the rich at the expense of everyone else, leaving no funding available to deal with energy, climate change, health care or education, or any other measures that actually benefit the American people".

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 10, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

This clearly reflects a different mindset, both figuratively and physically. After all these years, I have to conclude that their brains just are incapable of seeing the larger picture. Some synapses just aren't connecting in whatever gray matter they possess.

Posted by: bdop4 on March 10, 2009 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

"If a patient has cancer and heart disease, her doctor doesn't have the luxury of treating only one or the other."

The Republicans would say it's the patient's fault in the first place, take two tax cuts, and they will feel better in the morning.

Posted by: qwerty on March 10, 2009 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

"If a patient has cancer and heart disease, her doctor doesn't have the luxury of treating only one or the other."

If the patient is having a heart attack, you treat that first and worry about the rest tomorrow.

Some of us believe the economy is having the equivalent of a heart attack.

And forgot about what the GOP thinks. They are incapable of higher thought. This should be a Democratic/progressive debate.

Posted by: g. powell on March 10, 2009 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

the Market is not only the most important thing, it is the only thing.

And this God -- Market -- must have everything attend to it. everything and ever'body must conform to its holy and incessant needs.

until you see this, you will never see how things are connected and what reality is.

Posted by: neill on March 10, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Why Oh Why Oh Why can't these people see that the currant state of our economy and the health care problem are so tightly intertwined they can not be set apart with health care being put up on a shelf and forgotten until a better time. Which would be never in the Repub's mind.

Posted by: redrover on March 10, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it's Brooks' job to be a conservative. This is about as favorable a column as we can expect him to write. He's conceding that the Republicans are wrong on the merits and arguing that their strongest argument is that the Democratic plan for the economy ought to be more of a priority.

Posted by: matt on March 10, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Health care and energy issues are part of the economic problem, hence they need to be part of the solution. There Repigs, was that so hard?

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on March 10, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

The Comments section to Brook's piece is worth reading. They didn't let Brooksy get away with that shit. Good stuff. Trust he reads his own comments. He could learn something, Right CB?

Posted by: Scott F. on March 10, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

g. powell wrote: "Some of us believe the economy is having the equivalent of a heart attack."

And some of us believe the economy is slipping into the equivalent of a diabetic coma brought on by years of living on a diet of nothing but sugar cookies and soft drinks.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 10, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans: desperately seeking a talking point that will resonate with Americans. That's what this is about. They couldn't give a shit whether or not healthcare and energy reform actually are part of the economic solution. It actually serves them to obstruct. If they do it successfully for long enough, then people begin to forget who caused the problem and focus blame on whoever is currently in power.

This is what happened to Presidents Ford and Carter. Stagflation lingered and eventually each was blamed and lost re-election. Reagan was lucky that the economy recovered a little during his re-election.

Republicans are hoping to delay or at least diminish any recovery efforts long enough so they can put the blame on the Obama administration. Period. That is their plan.

Posted by: independent thinker on March 10, 2009 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

"this crisis is not just an opportunity to do other things"

In other words, Republicans can only effectively demagogue an issue if they can saturate the airwaves complaining about one topic at a time. Republicans know they will get their butts kicked by a popular president advancing a popular agenda at a time of weakness for the opposition party.

Posted by: petorado on March 10, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Klein actually makes a very similar mistake to Brooks, at least in the analogy he presents, which paints the problems as separate but also critical. Healthcare and energy are components of the problem with the economy, and failure to deal with them makes recovery likely to take longer, likely to be more painful, and likely to be less stable once it comes.

Dealing with the economy requires dealing with healthcare and energy policy.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 10, 2009 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

The house is burning down because after paying for health car, gasoline and heating oil we didn't have enough money to buy batteries for our smoke alarm.

Also, we couldn't get the republicans to pay for the batteries we couldn't afford. So the local fire department spent thousands of dollars putting out the fire. But the house burned down anyway because the fire hydrants hadn't been maintained.

Posted by: tomj on March 10, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

From what we've seen from Krugman, the prediction of a roaring economy next year sounds like wishful thinking. The kind of "psychic boost" we ridiculed McCain for.


The stimulus Blue Dems and Republicans allowed to be passed with prevent the worst of the depression and as it peters out, allows the recession to last through November of 2010. Possibly long enough to give Republican claims of superior economic approaches some traction, regardless of merit.

Small stimuli will help the GOP limp across the finish line. It makes me think that Obama may be planning an ACT II which may be sufficient to bring about the results he's predicting. How he gets it past the same nouveau-tightwads, I'm not sure.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 10, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

What? No fever?

"If a patient has cancer and heart disease, her doctor
doesn't have the luxury of treating only one or the other."

Posted by: koreyel on March 10, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm, patient has cancer and a heart attack - RepuG way is to perform financial triage first - Must have coverage. Priorities, respect priorities.

Posted by: Some MD named Frist on March 10, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Talk about transparency, and not the kind you think. The Adult ADD President, Bush kept a million things going at once, he started, well...three wars, I guess, he kept up a torture regime, a domestic spying regime, a GOP news/propaganda regime, he wrote secret signing statements, established secret legal opinions that undermined constitutional liberties, he dabbled in a domestic squabble in Florida with actual congressional action, he had an unknown number of people kidnapped around the world, and he kept the brush cut down in Crawford.

Did Brooks ever suggest that Bush was treating any one of these items, say the blind ambition of a democratic Iraq, as a "part time job".

Posted by: Capt Kirk on March 10, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama proposed having Medicaid cover all of the uninsured right now as an emergency step before a more comprehensive plan later, I would be all for it.

That's a step that would address the immediate crisis while also acknowledging that longer term solutions are essential.

Posted by: g. powell on March 10, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are SO used to the administration of GWB doing practically nothing, that they just cannot adjust to a President who has a good work ethic, and sees many things that need to be taken care of ASAP. Ask most people without health insurance. I am sure getting health insurance would be a financial priority for them. Why, they might even be able to keep their houses. If he does something, like say turn around stem cell legislation, and support science, I suppose some might say that has something to do with jobs. The PRESIDENT IS DOING HIS JOB. Get used to it!

Posted by: Meah Bottoms on March 10, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

You've used the cancer/heart disease analogy before, but I don't think it fits. I don't see the interconnection that is so important between health/energy and the economy. Because of the possible adverse interactions of drugs used for cancer or heart treatment, I could certainly see a doctor concentrating on one condition while basically monitoring the other.

More like treating someone for severe depression, while putting off the fact that his wife is leaving him and he hasn't bathed in ten weeks.

Posted by: argus on March 10, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Let's be honest. Brooks doesn't think that Obama's health care and education reforms would be great if only the economy weren't collapsing. Brooks opposes Obama's plans to fix health care and education.

He's pretending to be concerned about Obama doing too many things at once. But really he's just concerned that Obama is doing too many things that David Brooks doesn't like.

There's no reason that we need to pretend that we believe him when he goes concern trolling.

Posted by: Jinchi on March 10, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see the interconnection that is so important between health/energy and the economy.

When $4 a gallon gas helps trigger an economic meltdown, I think it's fair to say that there's an important link between energy policy and the economy.

When automakers teeter on the verge of bankruptcy because they can't keep their legal commitments to pay for their retired employees' health care, I think it's fair to say that there's a link between health care policy and the economy.

Ignoring health care and energy policy in order to prop up the banks is putting a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound. You may stop the initial bleeding, but the underlying problem is still there.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 10, 2009 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

One other thing: car companies are on the verge of bankruptcy because people stopped buying cars that only get 20 miles to the gallon when gas went up to $4, and they didn't start buying again even when gas prices went down. So, again, arguing that energy policy and the economy have nothing to do with one another is short-sighted at best.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 10, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

I don’t think any of you get it. If we don’t fix the banking problem, none of the rest will matter. Obama, as some of you may have read on this blog and elsewhere, can’t even get the Treasury department staffed. The patient has fallen off a cliff, and is dying. Do we really want to work on his/her broken legs, or arms first, as important as they are, or do we want to make sure the airway is clear, and the person can breathe??

Right now our patient is having a lot of difficulty in breathing, we better figure out why that is and how to fix it. The Dem’s are already stumbling over issues amongst themselves regarding the budget. If Obama gets the economy to begin to start climbing out of the abyss, with a little light at the end of a very long tunnel, then he can begin, and will have the goodwill to tackle the other huge priorities. If he can’t do this, nothing else will matter.

Posted by: jeff on March 10, 2009 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Why does someone like Brooks think that this administration is only capable of doing one thing at a time? Has he never heard of "multitasking"? This is a huge government, quite capable of handling many problems at the same time. I agree that his objections to doing more than one thing at a time are simply another way of rejecting government policy.

Posted by: rwgate on March 10, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't read Brooks' column as actually advocating the merits of any of those proposed positions, but, rather, as simply saying that these are intelligent, rational, focused objections that the Republicans could make.

Brooks may well support each of those positions, but that wasn't really his point.

Posted by: Don Friedman on March 10, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

"First, they'd take the current economic crisis more seriously than the Democrats." - Brooks

Hard to really take anything said after that statement seriously. Their plan is to cut taxes and cut spending and Brooks is going to claim they take the economy seriously.

OK, then.

Posted by: ScottW on March 10, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Right now our patient is having a lot of difficulty in breathing, we better figure out why that is and how to fix it.

We know the "why" -- the banks don't actually have any money. They put all the real money they did have into betting on derivatives and credit swaps, and now those bets are coming due as the holders discover they're completely worthless pieces of paper.

The "how" is the problem. Until the Wall Streeters face facts and admit (at least to themselves) that they bet the farm and lost it all, we're not going to be able to move forward.

It's not a credit problem -- it's a liquidity problem. The money that they had on paper never really existed, and now it's gone. They've been sitting on a Giant Shitpile (as Atrios calls it) and there's really no good way to get rid of it without blowing up the entire global economy. But you're never going to get the Masters of the Universe to admit they fucked up and broke the global economy. Example A: Jimmy Cayne, who's upset that Geithner won't tell him he's really smart and didn't do anything wrong.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 10, 2009 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Another angle to consider:

President Obama has an entire Department of Energy with a Cabinet Secretary heading it. So if its irresponsible to be looking at Energy during a financial crisis, what are these people supposed to be doing? Should they just go on vacation until the crisis is over?

I mean, maybe a case can be made that Obama should have most of his attention on the financial crisis. But that doesnt mean that everybody who works in his administration - or every staffer of every Democratic lawmaker - needs to ignore everything other than the economy. Many of them were hired for their expertise in other areas. They should keep working in those areas. If they find a helpful solution, they should go ahead and bring it up.

Are we only allowed to work on a problem once it becomes a crisis? Dont we want to *prevent* crises? And if so, dont we need people working on them before they hit (thus perhaps while other crises are ongoing)?

This really isnt complicated.

Posted by: TG Chicago on March 10, 2009 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Have you heard that David Brooks is eating three breakfasts a day?

It makes sense. A guy David's age has about 10,000 breakfasts ahead of him, and he can get them out of the way now. Ten years from now, when he's done breakfasts, he can start in on lunches.

Posted by: Mel on March 10, 2009 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

I can't diet, exercise more, cut down on my drinking and smoking. I have a heart problem, and I need to concentrate on that.

Posted by: Cool Bev on March 10, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK
I don’t think any of you get it. If we don’t fix the banking problem, none of the rest will matter.

Wrong. If we don't fix the twin problems of capital and demand, none of the rest will matter. The capital problem is that there isn't capital being made available to expand the economy, either for businesses or personal purchases on credit (this results largely from the actions of the banking and financial services industry, but its not a "banking problem", and looking at that way improperly and dangerously narrows the kind of solutions that get put forward.) The demand problem is largely due to the capital problem, but partially separate insofar as it relates to perceived economic volatility (not just lack of access to capital or lack of jobs related to business access to capital) which increases expected risk, and thus decreases demand while increasing caution.

But the problem with capital isn't that no one has any capital, its that the people with capital aren't making credit available to the people who would increase economic activity if they had access to it. While a number of interlinked factors produced this situation (housing market collapse, $4 gas and its short-term impact on demand, and others), what sustains it is the perception that investing in the domestic economy isn't a good long-term move, largely due to risk and competitiveness issues. Its not that banks don't have money -- they've been given trillions between TARP and the various, and less publicized, Fed efforts that occurred in parallel to TARP. The problem is that they aren't using it to stimulate economy by providing credit, because of perceived risk of further losses given the state that's resulted from the collapse so far. (There is an element of tragedy of the commons here, of course.)

Dealing with health care and energy are part of creating a better environment for investing, and particularly the former in terms of competitiveness and controlling costs and risks for both employers and individuals, stimulating both business activity, willingness to supply credit, and willingness of people to spend money.

Now, its true that as well as dealing with consumer demand and the demand side of investments, the supply side of investments needs to be addressed somewhat as well. Part of that is putting appropriate conditions on any further direct aid to banks, and part of it is for the government to provide credit/capital directly, whether its in terms of fronting start-up costs for programs of direct public benefit that also will create private benefit (as research funding in energy, or funding for EMR conversion in healthcare does), or direct lending in the places where private credit has dried up (education loans, for instance), or enabling individuals and firms to stretch the money they do have further (targetted tax cuts or tax burden rearrangement.)

Posted by: cmdicely on March 10, 2009 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Brooks and other media-pundits obviously think energy, education, health care and climate change are separate issues from the economy. They aren't. They are the engines that drive the economy and interconnected. And yes it's complicated. Nevertheless Brooks, et al ought to study the issues first and foremost because they are misinforming, confusing and in some cases scaring the public.

It is frustrating to listen to talk show hosts and their "expert" guests, "journalists", attempts to tie Obama to the stock market. The fluctuations in the stock market are not driven by politics -- right now short sellers are driving the market and fear.

The cable "news" hosts have a new meme: It is Obama's economy. Nevermind that the fall-out from Bush has yet to cease.


The lack of serious news and information is astonishing! Apparently the reporters don't know that you cannot fix the economy without dealing with all the factors included. Thankfully they are not in charge, Obama is. Moreover multi-tasking is his forte'.

While building the foundation for a healthy and lasting economy, Obama is busy with foreign affairs which are also integral parts of the economy and a host of other things that need to be dealt with, too.

Apparently Brooks and other reporters cannot chew gum and walk simultaneously and keep up with Obama.

If they would quit wasting time complaining they would have time to learn about the economy instead!

In doing so we would all be better off for it!

Posted by: serena1313 on March 10, 2009 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Mnemosyne

I wasn't very clear in my post.

I most certainly understand the interconnections between health, energy, and the economy. What I was trying to say is that the cancer/heart disease analogy does not convey that interconnection.

Posted by: argus on March 10, 2009 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

I most certainly understand the interconnections between health, energy, and the economy. What I was trying to say is that the cancer/heart disease analogy does not convey that interconnection.

I think it mostly does, except that it leaves itself open to be misconstrued as "cancer/heart attack," which I don't think is what Ezra meant at all. I can't think of another slow-acting long-term cause of death that matches up with cancer as an urgent matter as well as heart disease does.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 11, 2009 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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