The question is where we go from here. The economy is collapsing, as is rather obvious:
The worst financial crisis in over 80 years, sparked by the meltdown of the risky US subprime mortgage market, made this year one of the worst ever for investors, wiping some $10 trillion off major stock markets. It also radically changed the landscape of global finance, bringing down big U.S. investment banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and crippling the credit system that keeps the world economy humming.
… Tuesday brought more dismal economic news in the United States, with single-family home prices down 18 percent in October from a year earlier and consumer confidence plunging to a record low due to severe job cuts. “We are not going to be seeing anything fundamentally positive from the US for the time being,” said Michael Woolfolk, senior currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon.
Things are shutting down, and the general consensus seems to be that we need some sort of New Deal – fix the roads, bridges, schools and hospitals, and anything else that needs fixing. Rebuild the power grid so not only do we get no more of those cascading blackouts, but we can move power from remote wind and solar power complexes to population centers where we need it. Oh yeah – we have to build those too.
Actually, it hardly matters what we do – the idea is to get people working again, lots of people, so they have money to buy goods and services, and there’s then a reason to supply those, and not just lay off more folks left and right and wait for better times. It’s pretty simple, really. And if you’re going to get into a make-work mode like that, why not make the work useful? Not much of the nation’s infrastructure has had much attention for decades – visitors from abroad are surprised America is so shabby and rundown, and bridges falling down and the power going out is not impressive. With our education system ranked somewhere around twenty-eighth in the world, and our high infant mortality rate, and even our best home broadband service running at twentieth the speed you find in Japan or France, at triple the cost, we’re looking a little third-world. We might as well fix up the place while we’re at it.
Yes, this would mean massive deficit spending – and the plans being discussed range up to a trillion dollars, about what the Iraq War will soon have cost us. But every economist in the world says this must be done, and fears we may be too timid. We’re in big trouble.
Of course, the Republicans are unhappy – see House Leader John Boehner Solicits Stimulus Skeptical Economists over the Web. Boehner hasn’t had much luck. All the economists agree – he hasn’t been able to find that big block of famous economists who says we should simply cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy and just wait this out.
But there is an opposition. Regarding Obama’s big stimulus plans, Mitch McConnell is very concerned and wants hearings:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced skepticism today about the emerging economic stimulus plan, applying a brake to Democratic plans to quickly pass up to $850 billion in spending and tax cuts soon after President-elect Barack Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
“As of right now, Americans are left with more questions than answers about this unprecedented government spending, and I believe the taxpayers deserve to know a lot more about where it will be spent before we consider passing it,” McConnell said in a statement, which will be publicly issued later today.
A friend in New York, reading the previous column on this, sent this along:
The obstructionist stuff is just plain depressing – but, can they get away with it for long, or will they cave, under pressure?
McConnell may be likely to side with the growing public sentiment against the government’s unprecedented use of federal dollars to jolt the economy…
But about that growing public sentiment, it seems Politico just made that up:
A new national poll suggests most Americans favor an economic stimulus package even if it comes with an $800 billion price tag, although that support doesn’t indicate the public wants to see a new era of big government. Two-thirds of people polled think Present-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus package will help the economy. Fifty-six percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Tuesday said they favor the stimulus package that President-elect Barack Obama is proposing; 42 percent were opposed.
Something else is going on here. As for the Republicans blocking pretty much all stimulus programs, they do have those forty-one votes in the Senate, and you need sixty votes to end debate and bring anything to a vote – so with any bill they can and will block cloture. Nothing will make it to a vote. The rules are rules – you need sixty senators agreeing that it’s time to vote on any bill, and if you can’t get that agreement, debate stays open, forever. Democrats don’t have sixty senate seats. That’s just the way it is. Maybe in two years they might, but probably not even then.
So, unless some Republicans defect – Olympia Snow and Susan Collins perhaps – nothing will pass. And when things crash for good – unemployment hits twenty-five percent and whole industries fold – the Republicans can blame the Democrats for not getting anything done. Hey, the Democrats controlled congress, they had the majority in both houses, and they blew it. They’re useless, you know.
People will buy that – every single new outfit has always played it that way – and then they’ll be back in power. Lather, rinse, repeat – that’s the game. Since the Democrats will not reach sixty seats in the Senate, this is simply what will happen. There’s not much to do about it.
Why shut down the economy and assure economic ruin? Many Republicans feel they have to do this, as this is their chance to have what they always wanted, their chance for Herbert Hoover, finally, to defeat FDR, the man who ruined everything. See Jonah Goldberg here:
A very old story is once again being retold, with a few of the characters’ names updated to besmirch the innocent. In this story, conservatives are to blame for an economic crisis because they allegedly believe there is no role for government in the economy, and all economic crises are due to lax regulation of markets.
Cokie Roberts recently gave a sense of how old this story is on ABC’s “This Week.” She said of John McCain, “He’s a Republican, and whenever Republicans get into this kind of mess, everybody, even people who were not born or close to being born, the specter of Herbert Hoover comes out to haunt them.”
But Goldberg argues that Hoover was the real hero:
… there’s this idea that FDR rode to the rescue, saving the day by untying the American people from the railroad tracks of runaway capitalism. Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, now a surrogate for Barack Obama, recently said on NPR: “It’s very tempting to always think that the government should just stand back and let the private sector sort these problems out. That’s the kind of thinking that made the Depression ‘Great.'”
Summers should know better (in fact, I’m sure he does). The Great Depression was not made “Great” by government inaction. Indeed, FDR’s New Deal may have been wonderful in some mytho-poetic sense, and maybe some of its reforms can be defended in some broader context, but as an effort to end the Great Depression, the New Deal was a failure.
You see Hoover was right, except that he raised taxes – otherwise, had he won again, there would have been no Great Depression. Read the whole thing, if you wish. It’s what they call counterintuitive, or counterfactual. Perhaps having Herbert Hoover become a folk hero is something you didn’t expect. It’s bit depressing.
And of course Digby has a few choice words on this matter:
I’m watching stupid spokes-models 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 is simply not acceptable because they are now all labeled “pork.”
She knows the problem:
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.
She says this is just “another example of how the conservative movement work on rhetoric and propaganda over the past thirty years will continue to pay dividends even as they are out of power.”
It’s all in the framing:
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.
Is seems ideology does matter right now:
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.
That happens when you let the other guys frame the issues. And now we’re stuck:
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.
That is the game, even if it is, as she notes, a dangerous game:
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.
So there is this advice:
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.
But here Digby really nails the faming issue.
Former administration underlings depict President Bush as a “Sarah Palin-like” leader with a short attention span who deferred on big decisions.
Larry Wilkerson, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said Vice President Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promoted the notion they were a national security “dream team” to guide the foreign-policy amateur Bush.
“It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like President – because, let’s face it, that’s what he was – was going to be protected by this national security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire,” said Wilkerson.
She’s having none of that:
Yeah well, some of us repeatedly pointed this out from the get-go and we were endlessly lectured by the breathless media that the American people wanted a moronic “regular guy” rather than some boring egghead for president and that his election meant the “grown-ups” were back in charge, even though he clearly had the emotional maturity and judgment of a testosterone overdosing teenager.
And then, for years after 9/11 they actually tried to make us believe that he was some kind of Churchillian savant, whose “gut” was so brilliant that brains were irrelevant.
I’m sorry, but from the moment the Republicans trotted out that brainless brand name in a suit and passed him off as a leader (“I’m a leader cuz ah’ve led!”) I’ve been agog with wonder at the sheer audacity of their scam. It makes Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme look like a small time grift.
(And frankly, the demonization of Palin after their deification of Bush struck me from the beginning as nothing more than class and gender snobbery. There really is no substantial difference between them except that Palin actually had more government experience than Bush did. She was his natural successor.)
There is more at the link, but it comes down to this:
I’m sorry, these insiders dishing on Bush is fun and all, but I will always have a sour taste in my mouth from the years of being forced to listen to so many elites try to sell me on the absurd idea that George W. Bush was capable of being president in the first place and then force me to listen while they absurdly extolled him as one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.
It was obvious from the first time I saw him slumped in his chair like a surly delinquent at a Republican primary debate that the man had no more business being president than my cat (who is far more dignified and has better table manners.) It was an insult that they even recruited him for the job and even worse insult that the press destroyed Al Gore on his behalf and managed to help him eke out a victory by presenting him as the rightful winner from election night on.
Why I’m supposed to be impressed by these belated observations now I can’t imagine.
Maybe it is part of the big plan – dump on Bush and talk up Herbert Hoover and what might have been had Hoover remained in charge.
Actually, as part of that Vanity Fair oral history, there’s this interesting tidbit from Richard Clarke, the former chief White House counterterrorism adviser:
We had a couple of meetings with the president, and there were detailed discussions and briefings on cyber-security and often terrorism, and on a classified program. With the cyber-security meeting, he seemed – I was disturbed because he seemed to be trying to impress us, the people who were briefing him. It was as though he wanted these experts, these White House staff guys who had been around for a long time before he got there – didn’t want them buying the rumor that he wasn’t too bright. He was trying – sort of overly trying – to show that he could ask good questions, and kind of yukking it up with Cheney.
The contrast with having briefed his father and Clinton and Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, Don’t give the president a lot of long memos, he’s not a big reader – well, shit. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?
Ah – Hoover’s looking better all the time. It’s all a game.
And any good idea can be stopped.