Stimulus Bill May Pass (And Why It’s Reasonable The White House Got Caught Off Guard In The Messaging Wars)

Despite all the doom and gloom, according to Senator Harry Reid, it looks as though the much debated stimulus bill may actually negotiate the perilous path through the senate. Normally, I’m inclined to believe that whatever Reid says, the exact opposite must be true; the man has the political instincts of a dead badger most times.

But Blue Texan at Firedoglake brings up a solid point; the fact that Senator Lindsey Graham is making a bee-line for the “fainting couch” is definitely a good sign.

This is not to suggest in any way that Team Obama has actually managed to win, or even draw even in the PR wars over the stimulus bill. For at least a full week, Republicans have been successful at defining the massive package in accordance with some of its smaller parts; making it appear as though the stimulus package is little more than a hogfest of a pork holiday.

Unfortunately, the very nature of the bill lends itself to such attacks if no one is around to adequately defend it. It is essentially a shotgun effort, but not a shotgun effort in the way that “shotgun effort” is typically applied as a metaphor.

In its normal usage, shotgun efforts go like this–you’re in a house full of zombies, they all start converging on you, and you whip out the 12-gauge and start firing blindly in the hopes that you don’t die over the course of the next thirty seconds. There’s a subtle difference between that kind of shotgun approach and what is being done here.

Here we have a massive and broad bill that is also targeted. Steve Benen gives a pretty good breakdown of this over at the Political Animal. Yes, the scope is broad, but it is at the same time highly targeted to where each of the many targets are intended to have some sort of stimulant effect on the economy, even if on the surface it may look like one is indiscriminately throwing cash around.

In the case of the zombies, it’s like whipping out the shotgun, waiting until you got a good grouping of three or four ahead of you, and THEN firing with the intent of pushing back the oncoming hordes, giving you some breathing room, and hopefully a better situation from which to defend yourself as the long hard slog with the undead continues on (and don’t you tell me there’s no room for zombie metaphors when talking about the economy!).

Thus, defense of the stimulus bill may require a slightly more nuanced approach, but is entirely reasonable.

Which leads to the question as to how it came to be that an incredibly popular new president managed to get manhandled in the spin wars over this stimulus bill. There are, I think, two principal factors at play.

First, there’s likely to be a time for adjustment as far as messaging and PR blitzing goes. As hard as it may be to believe, the presidential bully pulpit is actually a rather smaller and less efficient pulpit compared to the one that President Obama had back when he was only a candidate for office. I mean, it was only a few days ago when it was finally settled that the man could keep his Blackberry, and he no longer has at his disposal the huge sums of campaign cash with which to launch an air offensive.

He is now operating under significantly tighter constraints.

But the other thing to think about is that the Republican response over the past couple of weeks has been, with little doubt, absolutely insane. Yeah, it’s reasonable to expect SOME push back on the stimulus bill, but when you really get down and think about it, this kind of concerted frontal assault borders on the bizarre.

Think about it for just a moment. Republicans were just handed one severe loss in an election, an election that could widely be seen as a repudiation of the way in which the party has operated over at a minimum the past eight years. The party’s overall approval numbers couldn’t even come close to the President’s 65%, and in general, the Republican party has been subjected to a single simple message from the American Public: you failed.

Any sane person or organization that has suffered the kind of damages that the GOP has suffered over the past two years would necessarily have to rethink what’s been going on. Even the most self-deluded individuals would have to rethink what they’ve been doing, and recognize that maybe, just possibly, they might have gotten a few things wrong.

Even looking at things from a purely political standpoint, the sane move from Republicans would be to recognize that the brand is in severe jeopardy, realize that the new administration enjoys vast amounts of support, and generally hitch up to that wagon if only for a while.

Now I’m not suggesting that the Republicans should have thrown in the towel completely, but it would not have been unreasonable for them to at least act a little chastened here–it’s what anyone should have done. Further, I don’t think that I’m too far out of line in thinking that the Republicans in congress should have felt grateful for being included as much as they were. With a strong electoral victory, and a stronger mandate to govern than Bush ever had, President Obama reached further across the aisle in his opening weeks than his predecessor ever did during his two terms in office.

So well founded cynicism would tell us that we should have expected nothing less from Republicans at this point, but I still find it hard to fault the President for thinking that the GOP might, for once, act in good faith. And I think I can understand if there was some surprise when it became all too clear that the minority party decided to instead start whining like a bunch of cry-babies, and put their own political goals above the good of the country.

Maybe it’s naive, but no sane people would behave the way that Republicans have over the past few weeks. I’m just saying.

(edited by DrGail)

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