Whether the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package and its relief plan for homeowners will achieve its desired results is debatable. The Great Depression didn’t end until America entered World War Two. Congress passed Ronald Reagan’s tax cut in 1981 but had to endure two hard years of economic recession before the Reagan Recovery took effect. The severity and breadth of our present crisis requires a special patience from the American people. Whether the American people are presently capable of such patience is also debatable.
What is not debatable is the skill and speed with which Obama Administration got the stimulus package passed and signed into law. Whether you are for or against the package, Obama deftly and subtly utilized his negotiating and oratorical skills and the political skills of his Cabinet and staff to get Congress to approve the deal. Despite facing Republican opposition in the House and Senate; despite experiencing tangential obstacles like the withdrawal of some his Cabinet nominees for various embarrassing reasons, Obama never lost focus and never lost sight of what had to be done. He held firm against any attempt at pulling the teeth from the stimulus package but at the same time allowed room for compromise in order to insure passage of the bill. Obama did what he could to bring a bipartisan feel to the bill. I can’t see how he could have done anything more without compromising the effectiveness or integrity of the package. After he got House passage of the bill he faced the prospect of a filibuster in the Senate. Amazingly, however, it didn’t happen. He got the three G.O.P. votes needed for cloture and secured Senate passage in record time and, even more amazingly, got the House and Senate to reconcile the two bills even more swiftly than the original Senate bill.
Critics carp that Obama only got three Republican votes in the Senate. What they forget is that Bill Clinton got no Republican votes at all when he needed Congress to pass his tax increase to reduce the budget deficit and get the economy moving again. He may have only gotten three votes but those three votes were all that he needed—a lesser President would not have gotten those three votes. Obama got them. That speaks volumes about his potential for leadership.
Obama didn’t have to resort to fear-mongering or arm-twisting like George W. Bush did. Obama allowed the bleak news to convince Congress. Necessity alone dictated that some sort of plan had to pass if this nation is to regain its economic confidence and reestablish its primacy again. To do nothing was to fail.
For all the conservative cant (and it is cant) about labeling the Obama stimulus package as nothing more than a massive borrow and spend bill what conservatives really don’t want the American people to remember is that America has been engaging in borrow and spend fiscal policies since 1981. The Reagan Recovery of 1983 to 1987 was financed by money which didn’t exist. Presidents Bush the Elder, Clinton, and Bush the Younger all perpetuated this trend. The only differences are in the ideological foci of the spending bills. The last truly fiscal conservative President (who truly believed in balanced budgets and cutting government spending) was Dwight Eisenhower.
For all the G.O.P.’s ideological posturing and their partisan hand-wringing, the truth remains is that they had six years from 2001 to 2007 to practice what they preached about fiscal sanity and less government—and they refused to do so.
Ideological purity is all well and good but to paraphrase the Lakota medicine man Black Elk: you can’t eat ideological purity. You can’t cash ideological purity at the bank. You can’t use ideological purity to pay for groceries or the mortgage or the car loans or your kids’ college education.
All this country can do now is hunker down and pray that the economic stimulus package works somehow.