Stimulus Blame: 'The Centrists' AND Barack Obama

Blame the centrists as Paul Krugman has decided to, but is Obama one of them or one of 'us' (whoever we are)? The anti-Keynesian inadequacies of the stimulus package are not simply the result of the bad guys' playing their predictable head-in-the-sand denial games. The President, Barack Obama, needed to have a progressive vision and rally the people, us, around that vision. Then we could've, and perhaps can still, pressure Congress and get the job done. But he didn't do that.

Instead 'we the people', a potentially great Obama political asset, were left on the sidelines as the stimulus package was worked out. Obama and the usual Congressional suspects (America is not inspired by the Harry & Nancy show) have tried to get the bill passed 'inside the Beltway', with the traditional, 'please as many constituencies as needed' hodge podge of tax breaks, and okay but uninspiring and 'vulnerable to attack' stuff. That adds up to a mash that even a brilliant White House P.R. machine cannot unify into a sellable, coherent vision for a great American economic future.

America needs, for example, to transform through green infrastructure the way we live. Then, 2-3 years from now we start to see results from this record spending splurge, for example vastly expanding mass transit systems, massive new and cheap alternative energy sources, and millions of money-saving conservation-enhanced housing units. (I realize some of this is in the present bill, but it's what, 10% of the total? You can't sell a vision with a bill when it's only 10% of the bill.) The vision includes replacement of infrastructure but is much larger, more expensive, and employs a lot more people, longer term, at union jobs (more below the fold but this was fleshed out in detail in a pre-election book I can't remember the title of, sorry!).

My opinion, one of the centrists who wrought the inadequate and sometimes misdirected stimulus plan is named Barack Obama. We may have to either fight or get used to this.

To do more for the real economy, to deal with the major non-economic problem in America's future, to make the stimulus plan Obama could've sold and gotten the population to rally around, and to make sure the package didn't mainly provide just an economic sugar rush, the stimulus bill should've been aligned with the following four paragraphs by Robert Pollin:

Recessions create widespread human suffering. Minimizing the suffering has to be the top priority in fighting the recession. This means expanding unemployment benefits and food stamps to counteract the income losses of unemployed workers and the poor. By stabilizing the pocketbooks of distressed households, these measures also help people pay their mortgages and pump money into consumer markets.

Beyond this, the stimulus program should be designed to meet three additional criteria. First, we have to generate the largest possible employment boost for a given level of new government spending. Second, the spending targets should be in areas that strengthen the economy in the long run, not just through a short-term money injection. And finally, despite the recession, we do not have the luxury of delaying the fight against global warming.

To further all these goals we need a green public-investment stimulus. It would defend state-level health and education projects against budget cuts; finance long-delayed upgrades for our roads, bridges, railroads and water management systems; and underwrite investments in energy efficiency--including building retrofits and public transportation--as well as new wind, solar, geothermal and biomass technologies.

This kind of stimulus would generate many more jobs--eighteen per $1 million in spending--than would programs to increase spending on the military and the oil industry (i.e., new military surges in Iraq or Afghanistan combined with "Drill, baby, drill"), which would generate only about 7.5 jobs for every $1 million spent. There are two reasons for the green program's advantage. The first factor is higher "labor intensity" of spending--that is, more money is being spent on hiring people and less on machines, supplies and consuming energy. This becomes obvious if we imagine hiring teachers, nurses and bus drivers versus drilling for oil off the coasts of Florida, California and Alaska. The second factor is the "domestic content" of spending--how much money is staying within the US economy, as opposed to buying imports or spending abroad. When we build a bridge in Minneapolis, upgrade the levee system in New Orleans or retrofit public buildings and private homes to raise their energy efficiency, virtually every dollar is spent within our economy. By contrast, only 80 cents of every dollar spent in the oil industry remains in the United States. The figure is still lower with the military budget.

Robert Pollin
December 2008
Nation Magazine

The following New American Foundation paper also is a big idea core that could've been sold over the tops of the usual inside-the-Beltways suspects: An Economic Recovery Program for the Post-Bubble Economy.

Tags: Barack Obama, Economic Stimulus, green infrastructure (all tags)



This diary is wrong in so many ways...

...blaming Obama for this is completely off-base.

Look at the obstructionist Republicans...opting to politicize something which could very well be almost as destructive to the well-being of this country, going forward, as an all-out nuclear war.

Shameful for misdirecting the dialogue in this manner...pathetic...and exactly what the GOP'ers want to see...infighting...

The enemy is them! Don't freakin' forget it.

by bobswern 2009-02-08 09:04AM | 0 recs
Agree 100%

The left is notoriuous for turning the firing in at ourselves...

Something the right counts on.

You want to be outraged, be outraged that Ben Nelson THE MOST rightwing Democrat in the Senate (wicki says votes statistically to the right of 8 Repub Senators...THINK how hard that is to do, with the current make up of Repub Senators) is now probably THE most powerful Democrat in the Senate.

We need 60 to 65 Senators, so these blue dogs can't leverage their power to drag all bills to the right..

But, unless I missed it, Barack Obama didn't get Nelson elected?

So, yup, this diary is just a hit piece....

Why delute a good point by dumping your bile to focus at Obama?

He didn't handle this well, surely; but he shares a TON of blame going all the way back to letting Pelosi write the bill herself without any input from anyone...

by WashStateBlue 2009-02-08 09:45AM | 0 recs
A week or two?

I think more of us need to get elected to Congress or spend a week or two seeing how the system works.

LOL, I would last about 1/2 hour before the other Sentators were prying my fingers off of David Vitter's neck....but, hopefully not before he turned blue and passed out on CSPAN2 from me strangeling him!

But, I would certainly make all the highlight shows, and after I got kicked out of congress on my first day, I could go on Colbert and claim "AlphaDog of the Week" status!

by WashStateBlue 2009-02-08 12:30PM | 0 recs
Another political battle btw the people &

vested interests lost by disarmed, whimpy, 'post-partisan' Democrats. You don't win those battles without a coherent, clean concept and a very aggressive and people-rallying political campaign. Instead, very clearly, Obama has disarmed the only army progressives have, the people, and bought completely into the elite media's "be nice" post-partisan theme. He's trapped by that strategy.

Listen to right-wing radio. These are exceptionally political partisan times. Obama needs to be his affable self about it, but must carry forward the  winning, progressive, and obvioulsy partisan, messages he was elected to make real.

by fairleft 2009-02-08 10:19AM | 0 recs

The "whimpy" post-partisan Democrats you describe are actually DINOs like Conrad and Nelson.  They are barely Democrats, align themselves more with Republicans.  We have to have the BDs on our side to get bills passed in addition to 2 Republicans.   To pretend that we would get that done by "having a spine" and telling these people to get with the program is a bit naive.

by devilrays 2009-02-08 05:03PM | 0 recs
It's not about inside-the-beltway maneuvering

It was about Obama having a clear and sellable vision about how a 2-year stimulus and infrastructure and retrofitting plan would make the U.S. a better place economically and otherwise. And then going out and using your high approval ratings and to get overwhelming public pressure on the House and Senate to pass a bill that would really work and do great, green things besides.

by fairleft 2009-02-09 05:40AM | 0 recs
question for bobswern

Do you still believe in the brilliant "price is right" strategy Nate Silver said Obama was pursuing on the stimulus? That is, Obama suggested an $800 billion stimulus package knowing that Democrats would add a lot to it, bringing the figure over $1 trillion?

Or do you now accept that by "starting the bidding" at $800 billion, Obama ensured that the price tag of the final bill out of Congress would be in that range and anything significantly higher would be seen as too expensive?

by desmoinesdem 2009-02-08 12:57PM | 0 recs
Not sure why you're asking me this... this set of comments.

I don't even agree with the diarist here.

As far as Nate Silver's concerned, I believe he's one of the most brilliant folks, in terms of analytical abilities, to emerge from the Democratic Party in a long, long time.

That being said, this whole thing about the "Price Is Right" strategy is pretty overblown. As a matter of course in D.C., folks push numbers in legislation and budget requests in order to leave bargaining room when it comes time to negotiate down the road. That happens just about everywhere.

I don't pretend to know what the right numbers are, and I look to people like Roubini, Stiglitz and Rogoff...and to a lesser extent, Krugman, for guidance on that type of thing, as far as my views are conerned.

I answered this question more directly in the comments section of my most recent diary, where you also posed this to me.

by bobswern 2009-02-08 04:54PM | 0 recs
Re: This diary is wrong in so many ways...

I agree with the author's sentiment about Obama being partially to blame.  That's a defendable thesis in this case.  If you don't like that Democrats call out their own, then become a Republican.

by reggie44pride 2009-02-08 05:38PM | 0 recs
Obama is not blameless..

Obama should have had the bluedogs scared shitless going into this thing. He shouldve invited them over and reminded them which party they belong to, instead of having dinner with right wing hacks. This has been a failure of leadership, which isnt just Pelosi and Reid. He shouldve used the bully pulpit, made his case to the american people and dared the republicans to stop it. But he was too concerned with getting some magical 80 vote dream.

The republicans are just being obstructionist, thats true. But we have allowed them to be. How is it the democrats were never this obstructionist with more numbers in the senate? Instead of doing what was needed Obama got lost in search of his unity pony.

Truman: "I don't like bipartisans. Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know that he's going to vote against me."

by PegLeg 2009-02-08 09:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Even if Obama

He had more support because the dems are politically weak, it wasnt just the bluedogs.

He wouldve gotten the republican votes had he and his team come up with a plan and sold it hard to the public. He had 70% approval, whatever he woouldve come up with would be golden. It would have prevented the perception that it was simply a dem pork bill that Pelosi (who isnt viewed as favorably) came up with.

A 70% approval president with majority public support - you get the handful of republicans you need to pass. This isnt all Obamas fault, but he acted as if he was politically weak, rather than the strong hand he has. The republicans simply acted accordingly.

by PegLeg 2009-02-08 10:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Even if Obama


by bruh3 2009-02-08 11:57AM | 0 recs
Re: How?

people have given you other options for achieving the end of reaching those senators. you then ignore and make the same argument about we need 60 as if you had never read alternative approaches.

by bruh3 2009-02-08 12:44PM | 0 recs
You sell your plan

When Bush decided to go to in Iraq war, did he have cocktails with the Dem leadership and invite them to watch the NCAA tournament?  Of course not.  He gave speeches and had his surrogates pounding the drum daily to the public.  This notion that Republican senators just do whatever they want without regard to the views of their constituencies is ridiculous, and Obama has finally realized this is what he needs to do so that recalcitrant Senators will feel public pressure.  Unfortunately it is too late and we are going to get this terrible bill unless there is some miracle in conference.  

Worse, the GOP has learned that Obama is slow to react and too deferential to Pelosi and the Dem leadership.  Obama appears to be a quick study so hopefully he will learn his lesson from this.

by JJE 2009-02-08 09:32PM | 0 recs
Re: You sell your plan

No but see his only choice "must" the line that we are being fed- he had to placate the centrist firsts. there was no other option possilbe. The american people, in other words, we are being told are not a factor (unless they again serve the centrists).

by bruh3 2009-02-08 10:04PM | 0 recs
I know

it is completely impossible to shape public opinion from an insignificant position like the Presidency.  Pushing the center to the left is unheard of.  Maybe there's some way we can just replace Obama with Joe Lieberman and avoid some fuss.

by JJE 2009-02-08 10:07PM | 0 recs
Re: I know

well- they have to create the lie, or else it leads to thinking. that's why the conservatives here attack so vigorously. They know their chance of any influence going forward depends on the lie they constructed. When the public sentiment comes into play, they lose. That's been the game since Jan 20th.

by bruh3 2009-02-09 02:38PM | 0 recs
Re: You sell your plan

by the way- you should realize that the 60 votes is a talking point now. It's not meant to reflect the reality of how Obama's choices affected how he got the votes. That he choose from the begining to placate them rather than first drumming up public support with actual voters is supposed to be ignored once Nfa says 60 votes. That's why I said above what I did. There is nothing of substance being said at this point. They will repeat that frame as the excuse when Pelosi capitulates later in the week.

by bruh3 2009-02-08 10:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Even if Obama

I didn't need to be here, you said what I would've said, but probably better.

by fairleft 2009-02-08 03:32PM | 0 recs
Re: How?

It's quite simple.  You go on a media blitz.  You point out the people who are being obstructionist.  You go to their states with your message.  It's very straightforward politicking.

by orestes 2009-02-09 08:32AM | 0 recs
Re: How?

but again see- its meant to be complicated. Get you stuck in the tree of a particular legislative process (we need sixty), and you are never suppose to ask "is this the only way to get to sixty?")

by bruh3 2009-02-09 02:40PM | 0 recs
The real problem

The United States Senate:

56 Democratic Senators
2 Independents
1 Undeicded Seat
41 Republicans

The Repubs decided to filibuster, because they have nothing else they can do. Yes, we all (not just Obama) need create the narrative that they are standing int he way of progress. But that isn't built in a day.

by iohs2008 2009-02-08 12:28PM | 0 recs
'progress' doesn't look so much like

a business as usual pork bill. Progress has a big idea, like using the stimulus to make energy sources, use of energy, and our urban/suburban transportation systems more efficient and greener. Not a diverse hodge-podge of expenditures for varying purposes and with diverse economic 'theories' underlying them, but something or things you can explain and sell in two sentences. And then Obama needed to sell it, taking advantage of the 70%+ goodwill he's come into office on.

by fairleft 2009-02-08 03:38PM | 0 recs
Re: 'progress' doesn't look so much like

Bullshit. The whole problem is that people want two-sentence economic plans. They don't work, but Republicans offer them anyway. When people want economic plans they can understand, they vote for Republicans. When those naturally fail disasterously, they vote Democratic, whereupon Republicans take credit for everything the Democrats do for the economy.

by X Stryker 2009-02-08 04:07PM | 0 recs
two sellable sentences

"We must take care of the unemployed and those hard hit by a major recession, and we need to stimulate an economy hard hit by a collapse in the construction and housing industry. But in replacing a collapsed construction industry for two or three years, let's build and rebuild in a way that is great for the economy and the environment, and in a way that shows major positive impacts on your home's heating and air-conditioning bills, and in all our medium and large cities' urban/suburban transportation systems."

Maybe it would be better as three sentences, but this is what I'm talking about. Now Obama needs to get out and sell this vision. Or, more likely, needed to, looks like it's whimp out time to the party and ideology with vision, even though it's been proven a disastrously wrong vision.

by fairleft 2009-02-09 05:57AM | 0 recs
let 'em

Obama should have done what the diarist recommends and if Diaper Dave wanted to lead a filibuster, let 'em.  Every day have the news be about the Republicans trying to block Obama's attempt to mitigate the recession 2 weeks after he took office.

by JJE 2009-02-08 09:18PM | 0 recs

Every economic bad news day is another goose up in pressure on waffling Republicans to knuckle under. That would've been a great way to start Obama's presidency.

by fairleft 2009-02-09 05:59AM | 0 recs


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