Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The stimulus needs stimulus

dday writes:

The upshot is that this bill, with the entire goal of stopping a careening disaster in the economy and putting people to work, is seriously off the rails. And I've got to say, a lot of it is because the Obama Administration isn't answering the critics with any kind of force or action plan. Now the job numbers for January due out on Friday - which could be astronomically bad - will create more of a sense of urgency, but that won't create action on Washington unless people are knocking at the gates. The bad timing of the Daschle withdrawal ruined Obama's media blitz yesterday, as his "I screwed up" line got all the headlines. But even the content of their pushback when they've bothered to do it has been suspect.


Finally, as Chris Bowers notes, the Obama team is asking shockingly little from its constituents. There was an organizing call last night that asked for some input, and they're setting up house parties, but that's EXTREMELY late in the game. This is the biggest legislation of the year, which will set the tone for all of the future promises Obama made. That he's not effectively using the bully pulpit or organizing his cadres is astounding. It could be that they are working so hard on all these simultaneous crises that they forgot how important it is to bring the people along.

Frankly, the degree to which the Obama camp seems to have forgotten about the media is really surprising to me; it feels out of character. Beyond that, I honestly think the Congressional Democrats have been downright embarrassing. There's no united front, nor does there ever seem to have been any effort to put one together, let alone get it out on TV where people can see it. I read about Obama and the Republicans reaching out, out, ever reaching, but I never hear about Obama falling back on Democrats when that doesn't work, nor do I hear of Democrats, well, doing much. Doesn't necessarily mean they're not, but it does mean that nobody is getting it into the public eye.

This is the part where many would throw up the "Everybody chill the fuck out, I got this" macro and point out that "Every time you/we/I/they second-guessed Obama in the campaign, you/we/I/they were wrong, and look how it turned out!"

I suppose that's possible. But this is a different game, for two reasons:

1. Media management. As dday pointed out, the Obama people now have to walk and chew gum at the same time on a much grander scale than ever before. While Obama did some work in the Senate while campaigning, he was still generally able to focus on managing public opinion at not too high a cost elsewhere. Now he has to do a lot of policy work as well as PR work, and a number of people in the campaign who did one or the other are doing both, and the policy work can't be limited to three or four big issues that voters care about, and it may be that they just haven't figured it out yet.

In addition, the campaign was all about Obama the individual, as it should have been. But the administration needs to have people other than President Obama himself that they can put on TV to defend the agenda. Again, this is where Democratic Senators should come in, since much of Obama's communications Dept. isn't familiar yet. I'm not saying it was a bad idea to trot out the President; this is a really big deal and it's important that people outside the Village pay attention, and he's the best way to do that. But there needed to be preemptive selling of the bill, and there needed to be damage control before and after the President made the rounds so that there is someone pushing back on the Republicans when the President, you know, has other things to do. Where are they?

2. The goals are now radically different and Obama hasn't yet changed his methods. The "11-dimensional chess" and bipartisan outreach that the media love and many bloggers are rolling their eyes over doesn't surprise me. It's who Obama is. Obama likes to be liked, he likes to be the reasonable one, the one who can sit everybody down and get a handle on the situation. He played that role all through campaign--even when it was just down to him and McCain, there were enough hysterical people around that he didn't need any hysteria of his own--and sure enough, people liked him for it.

The problem is that before, the goal was to be liked. That's a useful and ever-present goal, but it's tangential now and it's not THE goal of this fight. This disaster is unreasonable. Anything we do that has a chance of helping us with it will seem unreasonable. If Obama's goal is to seem reasonable and likeable, then he will be reasonable and likeable right up until we all move into Hoovervilles. There comes a point when you have to sacrifice the (truly fulfilling) work of changing the tone in order to beat your fist on the table and stop the whole damn conversation because it's going down the wrong road.

In my opinion, whether Obama proves willing to do that or not will make the difference between a decent, or maybe a failed, presidency, and a strong one. Right now he really doesn't look like a leader. He looks like he's in over his head. He's the guy at the head of the table that everybody is yelling over and he needs to bring this meeting to order right quick if the stimulus is to have a chance, and if he is to have much chance going forward.

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