If I see one more legislator or Cable TV Talking Head wave around the foot and a half thick, flopping pile of paper which is this Stimulus Bill, I will throw my own copy through the TV screen. The creative ones flop it on the desk in front of the them, the less creative just wave it around in front of their face and exclaim on its heft. Legendary Mel Belli supposedly made his reputation as a trial lawyer years ago in a case where a man lost both a race and his leg, with a San Francisco Cable car. For the whole trial, Belli kept on the counsel table before him, his client and, most importantly, the jury, a long, butcher-paper wrapped item which looked like it might have a few bloodstains and, oh yes, a severed leg inside.
He never actually opened the package, however, and the jury, of course, showered Belli and his client with money, and we are all left to wonder what he had in the package – his laundry, perhaps? We wonder too what is really inside the Stimulus Bill as, clearly, nary a legislator actually read it before voting “Aye” or “Nay,” in the dozen hours between when it was made available and when it was voted into law, subject to President Obama’s signature; remarkable, if you think about it.
Like Belli’s client’s apocryphal cable-car-severed-leg, we have now all been over-inundated (to be perfectly redundant about it) with the heft and size of this “Massive” (as they say over and over on Fox News) Stimulus Bill. If it doesn’t stimulate something, at least we can use it to hit somebody over the head to get their attention.
Congressional Republicans, following the early scent of Obama Administration blood in the water, and finding plenty of cable TV news outlets hanging on their every word, are already campaigning hard for their 2010 mid-term elections to assure party faithful that it won’t be necessary to take their seats away in primaries next year if they do not toe the hard line, and thus, are toeing an overly hard line, in my humble opinion, which makes absolutely no sense right now in the face of a historically grim economy, growing grimmer by the day. And, in response, and because I bet he really enjoys it, Obama has gone back out on the stump, campaigning again in the heart of many of those very Republicans’ districts, giving telegenic speeches and having truly Clintonesque moments with people in various Town Hall-style audiences, just perfect for the six o’clock news and endless sound bites playing over and over all night amid even more endless infomercials, if you have insomnia.
Americans can handle crisis – indeed, we seem to go from crisis to crisis whether it is a bit of rain falling on Southern California (“StormWatch ’09!) or hurricanes, icy Buffalo plane crashes, and terrible muddy, wet disasters and tsunamis in far away countries where the death tolls are in the tens and hundreds of thousands. What Americans totally lack, however, is patience – the ability to wait for things to unfold and for remedies to work. No so-called Stimulus Package, whether loaded with pork, or tax cuts (which may, or may not, translate into jobs, depending on your view), or more BailOut dollars for Masters of the Universe and others who don’t deserve to be rewarded for their failures, is going to work fast enough (if, at all) for the American public’s short attention span. And, there is the rub.
Paul Krugman’s column “Failure to Rise” in the 2-12-09 NYT warns: “So far the Obama administration’s response to the economic crisis is all too reminiscent of Japan in the 1990s: a fiscal expansion large enough to avert the worst, but not enough to kick-start recovery; support for the banking system, but a reluctance to force banks to face up to their losses. . . . And I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach — a feeling that America just isn’t rising to the greatest economic challenge in 70 years. The best may not lack all conviction, but they seem alarmingly willing to settle for half-measures. And the worst are, as ever, full of passionate intensity, oblivious to the grotesque failure of their doctrine in practice.” Whew.
You may not agree with this recent Nobel Economics Laureate, but you have to respect the fact that he may know just a wee bit more than you or I about whether or not we really are having the most severe economic catastrophe that most of us have lived through yet.
David Brooks’ “The Worst-Case Scenario” NYT 2-12-09, makes a further contribution to my and your sleepless nights, making a grim prediction of where this is all headed over the next few years into the 20-teens, like a historian looking back: “[In 2010 and beyond] the failure to generate a recovery led to a collapse of public confidence. President Obama’s promises of 3.5 million jobs now seemed a sham and his former certainty a delusion. The political climate grew more polarized. . . . Federal deficits were 15 percent of G.D.P. and growing. The U.S. could not afford to respond to new emergencies, like hurricanes or foreign crises. Other nations sensed American overextension. Foreign debt-holders grew nervous. Interest rates rose. Congress indulged its worst instincts, erecting trade barriers, propping up doomed companies. Scholars began to talk about the American Disease, akin to the British Disease of the 1970s.”
If these dire predictions are right, we may have waited too long already. Even if we have not waited too long, it is going to take an awfully long time to see any results from this Stimulus Bill, much longer than Americans and our ever-provocative Media can wait. With the utter death and destruction of any hope of bipartisanship in this yet new Congress, as so eloquently eulogized in Patrick Dorinson’s Feb. 11 F&HD piece, it is going to feel even longer.