Where’s the Stick?

by Ryan Avent

You know, the bottom line on the stimulus debate is this: a substantial package is necessary, and a substantial package will be imperfect, so we’re going to get an imperfect package. Certainly we will get a package that will not appeal to most conservatives, which is a good thing, because most conservatives are dead wrong on the issue of stimulus. But as Steve Benen notes, these conservatives are winning the public relations battle, and as a result, public support for stimulus is falling. And, as Ezra says (linking to Michael Hirsh) conservatives are winning the public relations battle over stimulus, because Democrats are letting them win it.

A changed tone in Washington, if costless, would be a wonderful thing. But voters put Obama and Democratic majorities into office in order to get results. If Obama chooses to embrace Republicans even as they actively work against the interests of the vast majority of Americans, then we have to question his judgment. It takes two to change the tone. Republicans aren’t interested, and they’re using his overtures to undermine the American economy and the Obama presidency. Obama’s mandate is his to deploy or squander, and the speed with which he has lost control of the storyline on stimulus suggests that he has miscalculated in figuring how much magnanimity that mandate affords him.

Whatever illusions the administration might have had that making nice on the stimulus bill would generate a comity that would carry over to other legislative priorities must now be shattered. This is what the process is going to look like for the next two years. Obama must either find a way to win or get as much enjoyment as he can out of the presidency while he has it. And winning needn’t mean an all out declaration of war on his GOP antagonists. But at this point Obama seems reluctant to twist arms at all. Given the stakes, this is inexcusable.