Mr. President, Tear Down This Conservative Spin!
The Republicans are throwing a lot of crap up against the wall to try and derail the stimulus package. Not all of it fits into a coherent whole, but it's all generally negative, decrying the hateful liberals in the House and the "pork" they've stuffed into the bill. Meanwhile, Obama is sitting back, organizing house parties (which is something you do two months before the bill comes up for a vote, not while the horse-trading is going on), and trying to stay above the fray. Obviously there's no chance of that working in the Senate, where the bipartisan brigade is already taking the conservatives' side on the bill. First it was Ben Nelson and now Kent Conrad.
CONRAD: [T]here are other areas of the package that are really very questionable in terms of whether they’d stimulate the economy. Some of the programs that are given money only have ten percent spend-out in the next two years. … There’s very little done in this package to help housing. Very little done to help the financial sector.
I guess those trillions of dollars in TARP money and Fed outlays wasn't enough for the financial sector, they need more and more. Whatever happened to the Wall Street/Main Street construction?
The stimulus is slowly drifting, then. Nobody's out there explaining why government spending is urgently needed and fast, what the implications are for the economy, and why anything that creates a job makes sense right now. Everybody, on the other hand, is nitpicking one spending program or another, tarring it with the "pork" brush, and framing it like a giveaway instead of the last resort we have. There is no private investment happening right now, trade is way down, and so is consumer activity. NOBODY IS SPENDING and so government has to or we'll have a depression right quick. Now you don't have to lapse into econo-speak to explain that, and it just so happens we have a charismatic leader who can make the case clearly and elegantly to the public and get them on board. At least they should hear from SOMEBODY, right?
The country needs to be instructed about the logic and necessity of this stimulus plan because they clearly don't fully understand it. And because of that, the Republicans are making headway with their rhetoric of "fiscal responsibility," conflating stimulus with bailouts and the rest of their destructive obstructionism.
Despite his huge personal approval, Obama didn't start off with a lot of public support for the plan and support is inching down. He is asking for a huge amount of money and the promise of bipartisanship is not working out. I think it would be helpful if he explained what a stimulus is and why this plan will succeed. People want him to succeed and they will back him if he makes the explicit case and give the plan some time to work if he asks them for it. Not having congressional Republicans on the team won't matter if the American people stay behind him. But if he continues to make bipartisanship the test of the plan's success or failure, it really could fail whether it passes or not. One of the main components of the success of the plan is its ability to inspire confidence and the Republicans, the Blue Dogs and their friend in the media are doing everything they can to ensure that Americans believe it won't work.
This is very serious. Red-state Senators are pulling away from this bill because conservatives in their backyards are winning the rhetorical war. There's only one way to turn that around, by using the bully pulpit. The ads running from surrogates will help, but the message is "support Obama's plan for jobs, not Rush Limbaugh and the failed policies of the past." A good start, but it needs more meat on the bones. It's time for a fireside chat with a nervous public.
UPDATE: Chris Bowers has some worthy thoughts on this topic.