Obama, in this fanciful version, held up his hand. He told his aides to put away the history books and reject the New Deal comparisons. Unlike in 1932, Americans today have a raging distrust of Washington, he observed. Living through a crisis caused by excessive debt, they will viscerally recoil at the prospect of federal debt without end. “Somehow,” Obama concluded, “we have to address the crisis without further terrifying the American people.”

The stimulus package, he continued, should rely heavily on cutting payroll taxes. This, he argued, will send a quick jolt to the economy without concentrating power in Washington. It will deliver a sharp psychological boost to the middle class. It might even be bipartisan. Obama noted that John McCain had a $445 billion stimulus plan along these lines and his fellow Republican senator, Mel Martinez, a $713 billion plan.

Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic committee chairmen were upset. For decades they’d been storing up spending proposals. This was their chance to pass them all.