Monday, February 23, 2009

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Pity our new president. As he rolls out one recovery package after another, he can't know for sure what will work. If he tells the whole story of what might be around the corner, he risks instilling fear itself among Americans who are already panicked. (Half the country, according to a new Associated Press poll, now fears unemployment.) But if the president airbrushes the picture too much, the country could be as angry about ensuing calamities as it was when the Bush administration's repeated assertion of "success" in Iraq proved a sham. Managing America's future shock is a task that will call for every last ounce of Obama's brains, temperament and oratorical gifts. . . .

We are now waiting to learn if Obama's economic team, much of it drawn from the Wonderful World of Citi and Goldman Sachs, will have the will to make its own former cohort face the truth. But at a certain point, as in every other turn of our culture of denial, outside events will force the recognition of harsh realities. Nationalization, unmentionable only yesterday, has entered common usage not least because an even scarier word -- depression -- is next on America’s list to avoid.


Maybe people aren't hiring former Bush administration officials for the simple reason that they were all members of a transparent crime organization. Or maybe they're not hiring them because they were all criminally incompetent. If they don't run your company into the ground, they'll cause some kind of public relations disaster when they're hauled before a grand jury. Who in their right mind would hire even a low-ranking official of the Bush administration? Based on what? Their connections? The Republicans don't run anything anymore.


There’s been some talk about a clutch of very conservative Republican governors from the South, led by Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, "turning down" federal stimulus money. This is mostly nonsense -- they're all actually taking the vast majority of the money and in most cases there’s no real option of declining. But Jindal seems to be genuinely putting the meat on the bones of one aspect of this refusenikery by declining to change Louisiana law in such a way as to make its citizens eligible for extended unemployment insurance benefits. . . .

If Louisiana makes its unemployment benefits less generous than what's available in other states, then maybe unemployed citizens will leave Louisiana for Texas and other neighboring states, thus creating an artificial appearance of an improved economic situation. It would be the equivalent of Mike Bloomberg fighting poverty by demolishing all the low-income housing in New York and hoping the poor people all move elsewhere.


Tapping in to the rage of taxpayers by exploiting their fears then, would almost certainly result in unanticipated problems for the GOP. But beyond that, is this the way the Republicans wish to return to power? The Rovian strategy of using wedge issues to cleave the electorate over gay marriage, abortion, and other social issues got Republicans elected but also sowed the seeds of their own destruction. By the time 2008 rolled around, those wedge issues had lost their potency and there was ample evidence of a backlash by center-right and center-left moderates against the GOP and their perceived intolerance. It was Obama who exploited this backlash by promising to govern based on not what divides us but by what unites us. His "post partisan" message -- a campaign gimmick we know now -- resonated powerfully with the center who had tired of the back biting and poisonous partisan atmosphere in Washington and longed for "change."

There is only one campaign theme more powerful in American politics than fear; optimism. This is especially true in dire economic times or when America is threatened from abroad. Not only would running a campaign based on tapping into the native optimism of the people score political points with the electorate, it would give the GOP if not a mandate, then certainly the political clout to slow down the Obama Dependency Express and restore some sanity to our fiscal situation. It would also give the Republicans some leverage to moderate the Democrat's bail out policies and give the party more input into legislation.


It is always a disappointment to turn from forthright consideration of some subject -- whether from the left or the right, a poet or a plumber -- to the Beltway version, in which the only aspects of the issue that matter are the effects it will have on the fortunes of the two parties and the various men in power. Today, though, with the nation facing the deepest economic crisis in decades, there is something particularly perverse about the Washington way.

We are watching industries crumble, Wall Street firms disappear, unemployment spike, and unprecedented government intervention. And our designated opinion leaders want to know: Is Obama up this week? Is he down? And is his leadership style more like Bill Clinton's, or Abraham Lincoln's?

Above all else stands the burning question of bipartisanship. Whatever else the politicians might say they're about, our news analysts know that this is the true object of the nation's desire, the topic to which those slippery presidential spokesmen need always to be dragged back.

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