Thursday, February 05, 2009


I'm reading President Obama's Washington Post op-ed and I'm hoping this is one more of those moments when I'm panicking but the cool guy knows exactly what he's doing ... but I don't think that's what it is.

First, the op-ed doesn't in any way, shape or form address what's really killing him: the GOP's preposterously narrow definition of what constitutes stimulus and what constitutes a job. Obama still needs to walk America through the chapter in the Macroeconomics 101 textbook that explains how putting wages in someone's pocket puts some of those wages in the pockets of shopkeepers who then buy refrigerators from other shopkeepers who then order more inventory, and so on and so on -- people don't understand this. And Obama still isn't explaining it. (He needs to do a non-goofy version of what Robert Krulwich does occasionally on ABC News; watch Krulwich's deflation-for-dummies report here.)

Beyond that, Obama's op-ed makes a connection between the short- and long-term goals of the plan that's absolutely correct but never explained:

... Every day, our economy gets sicker -- and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.

Now is the time to protect health insurance for the more than 8 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage and to computerize the health-care records of every American within five years, saving billions of dollars and countless lives in the process.

Now is the time to save billions by making 2 million homes and 75 percent of federal buildings more energy-efficient, and to double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy within three years.

Now is the time to give our children every advantage they need to compete by upgrading 10,000 schools with state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs; by training our teachers in math and science; and by bringing the dream of a college education within reach for millions of Americans.

And now is the time to create the jobs that remake America for the 21st century by rebuilding aging roads, bridges and levees; designing a smart electrical grid; and connecting every corner of the country to the information superhighway.

These are the actions Americans expect us to take without delay....

No, I don't think they really are actions Americans expect you to take without delay. They don't know why solving the short-term mess requires long-term thinking. You need to spell out the reasons -- or, at the very least, you need to hammer away at the fact that this is an immediate and near-term jobs program in which the jobs people will do are precisely what we need done for the future of the country (especially the economy) and the planet.

The big problem is that the party that's controlled American politics for the last three decades has conditioned us to expect all statements of political outreach to be very, very simple-minded (Government bad! Tax cuts good!), a trend accelerated by the last occupant of the Oval Office (Brown guy evil! Kill brown guy! Get freedom!). Obama is staring at the economic chessboard and thinking many moves ahead. Alas for him, Americans are barely able to keep up with checkers.

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