Thursday, February 05, 2009


Steve Benen links to this article about frustrated proponents of the stimulus bill, particularly congressional staffers:

... In a series of interviews, these staffers, frustrated by the lack of effective push-back to the criticisms and restrained in their ability to mount an on-the-record defense, have resorted instead to an unexpected form of rebuttal -- so what?

As in: So what if the bill includes a litany of unrelated projects? The stimulus is supposed to work across many sectors, not one....

It is, in a way, a public relations coup that the stimulus has been boiled down to, as one Hill Democrat puts it, "funding for the arts, funding for the mall, and funding to fight AIDS." Those aspects of the legislation, as the White House points out, constitute a mere 7/100th of one percent of the entire package....

One problem is that the Obama administration came into office believing it had won the election because of an enviable campaign infrastructure, which it would be able to maintain. Whoa! Cool! Millions of text-ready voters and donors!

But Team Obama didn't grasp that you actually have to keep generating content. Republicans never stop running for office -- everything they do is meant to destroy the Democratic brand and enhance the Republican brand. During the actual campaign, Obama's people knew they had to counter Republican arguments (and take advantage of Democratic strengths and Republican weaknesses), and they also what messages would accomplish those goals -- they ran strong, effective ads. Now they don't seem to know they still need to campaign, and they don't know what to say.

I don't understand why it's so damn difficult to mount a counterargument in favor of, say, restoring the National Mall -- it's work, and beyond that it's meant to restore a symbol of America, dammit. Do we have no pride in the public face of our nation? Shouldn't we have pride?

And as for the rest: Franklin Roosevelt put people to work in a very wide range of jobs. He didn't limit himself to the modern GOP's extraordinarily pinched view of what does and does not constitute stimulus. And, well, polls say FDR's still a pretty popular president. Wingnut think tanks may tell us the New Deal was a failure, but the public doesn't agree.

Surely there are people out there who recall seeing a once-unemployed parent go to work on a WPA or CCC project; a few of those workers may still be around and able to recount what they experienced. Why aren't Obama and the Democrats seeing to it that we hear from them?

Earlier this week, The Dallas Morning News ran this article. Why am I not getting anything like this from the White House?

... We may not know it, but everywhere we go in Dallas, we're surrounded by places that were touched in some way by these workers, who got a paycheck and some hope through the national Works Progress Administration.

Their work -- along with that of other Depression-era programs, such as the Public Works Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps -- helped transform the face of the city and others across the country, scholars say. The WPA employed 8.5 million people and spent $11 billion on public projects nationwide.

... Across the country, WPA workers built or improved roads, bridges, dams, schools, airports and courthouses.

But they didn't just build stuff. In Dallas, they wrote books, performed concerts and even sewed clothes.

... The WPA, as well as other government programs, also bolstered the city's arts and music scene. At Long Middle School, artist Olin Travis painted a mural in the library. Local writers produced a book on Dallas, the
WPA Dallas Guide and History, which was eventually published in 1992.

Workers did mundane tasks, too. They indexed birth and death certificates. They transcribed notes from early Commissioners Court meetings. They sewed shirts, overalls, pants and underwear for the needy.

In Dallas, the WPA was one of the most significant Depression-era efforts because it helped the city "retain its footing," [Darwin] Payne [a Dallas author and historian] said.

The WPA "seemed to be evident everywhere you looked, from the courthouse to City Hall to the parks to social services to adult education," he said. "They spent a lot of money and kept a lot of people on the payroll."

Throughout Texas, WPA workers opened and expanded libraries. Singers, orchestras and musicians performed and taught music education. Crews improved San Antonio's Riverwalk, adding sidewalks and stairways....

Why isn't the White House telling us stories like this? Talking about the number of people who were put to work in just the kinds of projects Republicans now say don't put people to work? They could show us the enduring legacy of the New Deal and say that years from now people will say, "We were in tough times, but we got jobs and we built this" -- why aren't they doing it?

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