Editorial Page Editor
“This is your bill; it needs to be America’s bill.”
— Sen. Lindsey Graham,
addressing Senate Democrats
worries me, after all the rhetoric, exhortation, accusations,
counter-accusations, fault-finding and blame-laying, is that the
stimulus bill that spent the week staggering its way through the U.S.
Senate might not work anyway.
There was always
that very good chance. Several weeks back, Paul Krugman — who as a
Princeton economist is a Nobel Prize-winner, but as a political
columnist is a partisan automaton — said as much. He said it wouldn’t
be enough to give the economy the jolt it needs to overcome the lack of
activity in the private sector. He made a persuasive case.
last week, Mr. Krugman wrote that this bill just had to pass, that
those blasted Republicans opposing it were “putting the nation’s future
at risk.” Obama’s mistake, he now said, was trying “to transcend
partisanship” and work with the Republicans at all.
I believe the
exact opposite to be true. I believe the chances of the bill doing any
good declined with each step into the thicket of partisanship.
never won so much as a Cracker Jack prize for economics, much less a
Nobel, but there’s one thing I think I understand: Whatever Washington
does in the way of stimulus — and it needs to do something (with the
private sector in paralysis, this is a job for the Keynesians) — it
won’t work unless America can believe in it.
Just as Mr. Krugman
is right about some things, so is Phil Gramm. Remember how indignant
the Democrats got when the McCain adviser said, in mid-campaign, that
we were experiencing a “mental recession”? Well, he had a point. While
it doesn’t make the real-life pain any less, the mechanisms that get us
into a predicament like this have an awful lot to do with what’s going
on in our heads.
When businesses think they have a chance to
grow, they invest and create jobs. When they’re scared, they freeze up.
When buyers and sellers believe home values will keep appreciating, the
real estate market is hot. When they start to doubt values, buying and
selling stop. When everyone believes a stock’s value will keep rising,
it does keep rising; when they don’t, it crashes. When you think the
lousy economy is threatening your job, you stop spending and stuff your
earnings, literally or figuratively, into a mattress, and the workers
who depended on you to buy what they produce lose their jobs, which of
course increases everyone’s pessimism.
No, it’s not all in our
heads. At some point, certain things have real value. But we’re not
going to start buying and selling and hiring and investing and taking
risks at the levels needed to pull ourselves out of this tail-spin
until we reach a consensus that things are getting better, or about to
You can argue about the specific provisions in the
stimulus all you want, and Democrats and Republicans have been doing so
enthusiastically. But I don’t think I’ve seen a specific idea yet that
couldn’t be argued both ways. Even the worst idea pumps some juice into
the economy; even the best one is no silver bullet.
sector leadership — especially on Wall Street — having failed us so
spectacularly, we need something intangible from our political
leadership every bit as much as we need infrastructure spending and/or
tax cuts: We need to look at what Washington is producing and believe
that it actually is for the good of the country, and not for the good
of the Democrats or the Republicans or this or that politician.
he entered office, I thought Barack Obama had what it took to lead us
in that direction — to pull us together and help us believe that we can
solve our problems. To persuade us, as FDR did, that we had nothing to
fear, that we were going to get through this, together.
think he can. But last week, I saw him stumble. I’m not talking about
the Tom Daschle business. As the stimulus package faltered, he reverted
to campaign mode, blaming Republicans who wanted to cling to those
failed policies of the past eight years we heard so much about in 2008.
him in this counterproductive effort were such Republicans as our own
Jim DeMint, who most certainly was clinging to the ideologies that have
failed his party and the nation — such as the stubborn idea that tax
cuts are the only kind of stimulus anyone needs.
A far more
sensible position was taken by our other senator late Thursday. Lindsey
Graham grabbed headlines by saying “this bill stinks,” but he had
smarter things to say than that:
You know, my problem is that I
think we need a stimulus bill. I think we need to do more than cut
taxes. But the process has been terrible. The House passed this bill
without one Republican vote, lost 11 Democrats. Nancy Pelosi said, We
won, we write the bill…. (W)e’re not being smart and we’re not
working together, and people want us to be smart and work together, and
this has been a miserable failure on both fronts.
As I wrote this
column, much remained unsettled. By the time you read it, something may
have passed. But as I wrote, I was sure of this: If the Congress gave
the president a bill that was pleasing only to the Harry Reids and
Nancy Pelosis, it wouldn’t help the president inspire the kind of
confidence that the whole nation needs to recover. (The same would be
true if Jim DeMint got all he wanted, but there was no danger of that.)
if the president has a bill that Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Ben
Nelson of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine all voted for, the nation
would have a chance of moving forward together. And together is the
only way we can recover.
For more, please go to thestate.com/bradsblog/.