Has Barack Obama realized that he won the election? I know he told Republicans in the House that “I won” as a means to shut down actual negotiations over the stimulus package and try to get them to vote on a bill in which they had zero input. But in reading Obama’s column in today’s Washington Post, all I see is empty sloganeering and cheap fear-mongering instead of substantive cases for the myriad of spending projects in his stimulus bill:
This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending — it’s a strategy for America’s long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it’s a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.
In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.
I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We’ve seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.
The last two examples refer to the 2007 St. Anthony Bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the New Orleans disaster with Hurricane Katrina, but they’re odd examples to use for government intervention. Both were public projects when built, and both had serious flaws from the beginning. The bridge collapsed not from a lack of maintenance, but because its original design seriously underestimated the thickness of supporting plates in the structure and a decision by designers (and approved by Minnesota) not to build redundant support. The levees weren’t built to their original specifications, a problem at which the government kept throwing money for decades to no great effect.
The “tragic consequences” resulted from governmental incompetence, not from a lack of investment, and Obama’s use of these two events displays a staggering ignorance of the facts.
Even beyond this, though, Obama gives no support for the argument that all of the spending in his bill should get passed under emergency conditions, or that any of it will specifically create even one job this year. Obama chants “Now is the time” in five successive paragraphs as if he’s making a campaign speech rather than a cool, calm case for his legislation. He blathers on about how people “voted for change”, but that’s just a slogan, not a policy, and it certainly isn’t an argument. La change, c’est vous, mon President, but that doesn’t make ‘change’ evidence.
In fact, in most of this column, Obama makes the opposite case. He argues that he’s building infrastructure for a generation of growth. Fine, but that’s hardly the reason for an emergency spending bill. That kind of long-term planning belongs in a process that can take a close look at the proposals and measure them carefully, especially given the amounts of money involved. If Obama wants to have that debate, then split all of the long-term spending into separate bills and push them through the normal legislative process, and leave only the immediate stimulus spending in HR1.
Time to stop being a candidate and spewing platitudes, President Obama, and start governing with specifics. This column wouldn’t even make a good primary stump speech.