There is something surreal about the debate surrounding the stimulus bill which now appears headed for passage in the Senate. On the one hand, you have conservative Republican lawmakers railing against the bill’s pork-laden provisions with all the earnestness and fervor of the born-again, fiscally responsible politicians they have suddenly become. It’s as if we are getting lectures in morality from a pimp who, after seeing the light and embracing Christ as his savior, now feels compelled to preach against the evils of prostitution. You are happy for the transformation but leery about how long it will last.
Whether GOP legislators are now beating the tambourine for fiscal responsibility out of conviction is a matter open for debate, although being trounced at the polls may be reason enough for them to suddenly rediscover their conservative roots.
And what of the Democrats and their equally sudden metamorphosis from earmark crazy gigolos, bedding down any lobbyist who winks in their direction, to warriors for safeguarding the taxpayers’ money? Admittedly, the Democrats have a much harder sell given the blatant and sometimes comical fraud they are trying to perpetrate on a public scared out of its gourd by a president whose hyperbole and predictions of “catastrophe” if the bill is not passed immediately is matched only by his cynical refutation of any semblance of the “bi-partisanship” he so blithely promised to bring to Washington during the campaign. No one doubts the economy is bad and getting worse. But when the president of the United States stands up and asks us to give in to our fears, to blindly obey his call to pass a bill with tens of billions of dollars in spending that even the bill’s proponents say is wasteful, one has to ask what happened to the party who once told us: “All we have to fear is fear itself.”
How money is spent should be far from the biggest concern about the stimulus package, its chief author, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) said Friday.
“So what?” Obey asked in response to a question on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about the perceived lack of direction from Congress as to how money in the stimulus should be spent. “This is an emergency. We’ve got to simply find a way to get this done as fast as possible and as well as possible, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Thus speaketh the voice of fiscal responsibility.
And thus speaketh a president who, for all his rhetorical gifts, can’t seem to muster the words that would give the American people the one thing desperately needed at this point in American history — hope.
That’s right. The candidate of “Hope and Change” has decided to be a president who espouses “Fear and Loathing.” Fear of financial Armageddon unless we do as we are told and blindly give in to his $900 billion panic panacea for the economy and loathing of the opposition — an opposition Obama unfairly portrays as opposing him out of spite and because a popular talk radio host is telling them what to do.
It is a far cry from the way Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan handled economic crises that in some ways were more dire than what Barack Obama is facing today. Both men came to office at a time when the American spirit was limping and lost. Both men were confronted with unprecedented economic problems (double digit inflation and interest rates in 1981 were an impossibility according to the books).
And yet, both men eschewed fear mongering and sought to lift the people out of themselves in order to bring back hope and allow the natural optimism of the American people to come to the fore. Arguments rage to this day whether FDR’s massive spending helped or hurt the economy. And Reagan’s tax cuts began a spiral of deficits that, save for a brief period in the 1990s, fostered a climate of “let the kids pay for it” on Capitol Hill.
But few can argue that FDR and the Gipper didn’t succeed in changing the dynamics of the crisis they were facing by inspiring the people to believe in themselves again and that better times were ahead.
Obama does not want Americans to believe in themselves. He wants them to believe in him:
If we don’t move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe. Millions of Americans will lose their jobs, their homes, and their health care. Millions more will have to put their dreams on hold.
The truth should be dawning on all of us just about now that Democrats, Republicans, economists, Wall Street wizards, and even the high priests of monetary policy at the Federal Reserve have no idea how bad things are going to get or whether anything Congress does can improve the situation — much less stave off disaster. And that means that the only thing we have to hang our hats on is the credibility and trustworthiness of the president of the United States.
Instead of instilling confidence, Obama is selling fear. Instead of raising us up, he is crushing us with his rank appeal to partisanship. Instead of statesmanship, we get gimmicks like his stimulus bill that the Congressional Budget Office tells us will harm the economy in the long run.
It is amazing and frightening to think that less than three weeks into his presidency, Barack Obama is at risk of losing his credibility as a leader by threatening disaster unless his will be done. He may very well get what he wants when Congress passes this monstrosity despite it monumental flaws.
But at what cost? And is Obama capable of being the kind of leader who can inspire hope rather than generate fear?
So far, he has failed in that regard.