Monday, February 16, 2009

“We Won” -- Again



President Obama was criticized roundly for his remark to the Republicans that “I won”. The criticism was mostly from (of course) Republicans. Although you’d never know it by listening to them, it needs to be said again. President Obama won (again.) The $800 billion dollar stimulus package was passed by Congress.

Frank Rich at The New York Times hammers the point home much better than I ever could.

”The stimulus opponents, egged on by all the media murmurings about Obama “losing control,” also thought they had a sure thing. Their TV advantage added to their complacency. As the liberal blog ThinkProgress reported, G.O.P. members of Congress wildly outnumbered Democrats as guests on all cable news networks, not just Fox News, in the three days of intense debate about the House stimulus bill. They started pounding in their slogans relentlessly. The bill was not a stimulus package but an orgy of pork spending. The ensuing deficit would amount to “generational theft.” F.D.R.’s New Deal had been an abject failure. “

I recommend reading the whole editorial for some clear thinking on the matter. I only used the quote that included FDR for purposes of continuity.

As my readers know, Franklin Roosevelt is my favorite President. There is a large effort to revise the history of FDR by (who else ?) the Republicans. They seem to be masters at making some people forget the obvious. Talk about an “I won” moment -- FDR won four elections as President. Whatever the revisionists say, they can’t change that fact. FDR was immensely popular with the American people. True, there was a large group that hated FDR. There’s a large group of people that listen to Rush Limbaugh everyday. I suspect the two groups would have a lot in common -- besides being on the wrong side of history.

Much of the revisionist history goes like this; “FDR’s spending programs didn’t end the Depression.” To which I always ask, “What did ?” The usual answer is “World War II.” Okay, we’ll let that rest for just a second while I make a point that is often left out of the debate these days.

Accept for the moment that FDR’s New Deal didn’t end the Depression. What it did do -- and again, history is clear on this -- is employ people. FDR gave the people jobs -- and hope. Millions of them. Much of the work done in this period still stands today -- including LGA airport. In other words, we can employ people in worthwhile endeavours if we so desire. Or we can just send them unemployment checks. I would pick the job option. I think most other Americans would too. (I’m assuming “let them starve” is not a viable option.)

Now, let’s get back to what ended the Depression. Was it the New Deal or World War II ? If you’ll look at the root issue, you’ll find they are one and the same -- government spending. I mentioned this to my son last night as I drove him back to college. He’s going to do a double take if he reads Paul Krugman today.

”If you want to see what it really takes to boot the economy out of a debt trap, look at the large public works program, otherwise known as World War II, that ended the Great Depression. The war didn’t just lead to full employment. It also led to rapidly rising incomes and substantial inflation, all with virtually no borrowing by the private sector.“

I have no idea what our future holds. I don’t know if President Obama will turn out to be a good President or not. You certainly don’t want to bet our country’s future on my knowledge of economics. But I can read. And I can think. So can you. I think I’d rather pay for a civilian-oriented stimulus package rather than a military one. Somehow, I don’t think a World War III would end well. For anybody.

When you look at history and see what is at stake, should the world sink into another Depression, a trillion dollars seems like a bargain. I think we won this round. All of us -- including the Republicans. Let’s hope we can keep winning.

Don Brown
February 16, 2009

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