Great piece in the New York Review of Books by Kwame Appiah reviewing two books on the Obama administration, the latter of which Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal makes a spirited defense of the Obama stimulus bill. Here’s a passage where Grunwald lays out how the simiulus bill delivered on Obama’s promise to invest in a wide range of necessary and far reaching infrastructure projects.
the bill laid the groundwork for many important programs that made good on the “new foundation for growth” promised in the president’s inaugural address:
We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.
As Grunwald points out, every item on this list appeared in the Recovery Act:
roads and bridges (Title XII), transmission lines (Secs. 301, 401, 1705), and broadband lines (Titles I, II), scientific research (Titles II, III, IV, VIII), electronic medical records (Title XIII), solar and wind power (over a dozen provisions), biofuel refineries (Title IV), electric cars (Sec. 1141), green manufacturing (Sec. 1302), and education reform (Sec. 14005).
As someone sympathetic to the president’s politics, I’m puzzled by his inability to cogently defend what he’s done in office. Malik says it better than I could when he compares Obama’s to Romney’s alleged tendency to “run away from his record”:
But something similar could be said of Obama, whose opponents have made the Recovery Act, as well as the Affordable Care Act, into a political tar baby. When Mitt Romney scoffed in the first debate that half of the green energy companies supported by the federal government had failed, anyone who had read The New New Deal would have wondered where the governor was getting his facts from. They might have been less surprised that the president did not rise to the program’s defense. Something in the president’s personality may be getting in the way of his persuading the people, inside and outside Washington, whom it’s his job to persuade. That, at least, is one reading of the inkblots.
My suspicion is that the campaign has field tested these messages and not liked what they have heard. Fair enough. But when you opponent is pummeling you at least have to hit back with something. it would seem that the campaign has decided that rather than try to defend a “long game” investment approach to economic stimulus, they’ll wait out the clock and run against their opponent. That might work. Conceivably, it is better to keep a necessarily pork-laden stimulus out of the public discussion in the hopes that the opposition won’t nit pick it to death. But if the Romney-surge, to the extent it exists, is based on a view that the president has “done nothing” in office, the president should have had a better “elevator pitch” for why his has been a very productive four years (at least as far as progressives are concerned). If he loses, I think it will be because he didn’t/couldn’t do this. Maybe Appiah is right that the president has a quirk in his personality wherein he eschews back-slapping. If so, he may be looking for a different line of work soon.