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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

 
Stimulate This

by digby

I'm watching stupid spokesmodels on MSNBC chortle and giggle and express shock and disgust at the idea of all the "pork" that the governors have put into their stimulus requests, openly siding with the Republicans who say that the only fiscal stimulus that's allowed will be in the form of tax cuts. The idea of projects to create jobs are simply not acceptable because they are now all labeled "pork." Meanwhile, I read over at Talk Left that the Politico is making up poll numbers suggesting that Americans are against the "unprecedented use of federal dollars to jolt the economy." (Of course if they, like the talking robots on MSNBC, are brainwashed into believing that any spending that isn't a tax cut or fixing a pot hole is considered "pork" then they may be right.)

What with Mitch deciding to obstruct everything in sight and the media lining up to call all government spending for stimulus "pork" we may have a little problem on our hands. As Krugman says, the problem isn't that the government might spend too much --- it's that it will spend too little. And it looks like the media and the Republicans are going to join forces to make sure that the government is hobbled in this regard before they even start.

I hate to be a broken record, but this is another example of how the conservative movement work on rhetoric and propaganda over the past 30 years will continue to pay dividends even as they are out of power. Since people have not heard anything different during that period, as Democrats embraced the idea that government was the problem not the solution and that liberal ideology was "divisive" and wrong, they pretty much left the playing field to the conservatives. Now that the right wing ideologues have destroyed the economy, people don't have any idea how a government is supposed to work and will be susceptible to tired, useless Hooveresque solutions because they simply don't know anything else.

Ideology actually matters at times like this. The idea of massive government spending to stimulate the economy is not intuitive when individuals are being told to tighten their personal belts and pay off their debts. (When people hear for decades that the government should run like a household budget or a business, that's to be expected.) If they had a simple faith that government is a solid, dependable actor, or were given a short primer in liberal economics as part of the political debate, they would know that this emergency requires serious government intervention. But they have been told for a quarter century that government is an irresponsible, spendthrift institution that stands in the way of individual prosperity and nobody has been saying otherwise, least of all Democrats who've also been fetishizing markets and praising tax cuts like a bunch of Ayn Rand groupies.

Obama will likely get some kind of large stimulus through the congress, but it's probably going to take a huge amount of his political capital to get it done, which it shouldn't, and will leave him with less than he needs to deal with the rest of this pile of compost the Republicans have left on his plate. And every incident of "pork" that is subsequently revealed will be exploited by the Republicans and gleefully reported by the press, thereby chipping away at the notion that the stimulus was the reason for any upturn, instead reinforcing the old saw about Democrats as feckless tax and spend liberals.

This is a dangerous development. This so-called pork is stimulus and it doesn't matter if the states spend it on courthouses or if they spend it on a snow making machine for a ski resort. It's about getting money into the economy, preferably by building and making investments in things that will provide jobs in the long run. But the most important purpose is to give the economy a quick, strong jolt that only the government is capable of giving. Obsessing about pork is entirely beside the point.

Someday Democrats will learn that they need to make their own case to the people instead of repackaging warmed over Republican rhetoric. It puts them 20 points behind at beginning of every play. There may be enough good will toward Obama that they can get a serious stimulus through, but it shouldn't take this scope of economic devastation for that to happen.

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