One of the more troubling aspects of the Obama stimulus package is its subtle and flexible rhetoric of infinite excuses.
The President claims that his $825 billion stimulus bill will “create or save 2.5 million jobs.” Sounds great, right? Makes you think that we’re going to get this economy going again by adding jobs to the nation’s payroll. But even if the economy loses 1 million jobs in the next 12 months, the President’s prediction can STILL be right! All he has to say is that, without his plan, the nation would have lost 3.5 million jobs. He saved us, you see! In fact, he may have saved your very job. How do you disprove that? Even the 1 million newly unemployed can’t be all that mad, because their jobs were inevitably going to be lost — it was their brother/mother/neighbor’s job that was saved by the stimulus.
How to fix things for the 1 million who lost their jobs in my scenario? Why, another stimulus, of course! The first one saved (or created) 2.5 million jobs — to get the 1 million guys re-employed, we need to spend hundreds of billions more…and if more people lose their jobs, cut another check, ad infinitum.
There is no way to evaluate success or failure here. If the “shovel-ready projects” don’t take off like they should, it’s not the stimulus’ fault — it’s the lawsuits/bureaucrats/contractors that stand in the way. How to fix it? Authorize some more projects or increase the budget to fight through the obstacles. If the “tax cuts” (for those who don’t pay taxes) fail to stimulate spending, then we need to cut more checks to allow spending to “trickle up” and help the economy. If the clean energy spending doesn’t result in cleaner energy, we obviously didn’t invest enough. When businesses don’t appropriately expand when they are “stimulated” by the bill, punish them with taxes
This rhetoric has been employed for decades when it comes to our public schools. How many times have we heard education spending justified by saying that if a program helps one more child read, or attend college, or become a musician, then you MUST support the program. If you aren’t willing to support the program, then you must hate that child. Child haters, in case you haven’t noticed, don’t win elections.
The analogy works because, like teaching kids, saving and creating jobs in a recession is a goal for which many are willing to spend mindlessly. If we spend money on green jobs, then people who make green things will have jobs, and they will make green things. It doesn’t matter if we’re spending three times as much for a job as it actually earns the individual in real wages, or that the green things aren’t in demand by the public — he has a job! If you oppose a green jobs program, you not only don’t want that guy to have the job, you also support pollution. It’s a double-evil for those money-grubbing rich Republicans. But then again, we all knew they didn’t want you to have a job, didn’t we?
For liberals, the principled answer to failed government programs is always more money for that program, or more programs. Government programs themselves are never the problem — it’s always the selfish, hateful, partisan people who don’t care as much as the liberals do and won’t just hand over the money, already. Republicans lost the ability to argue back that less spending and more freedom is often the solution when they radically increased the size of the federal budget (and, to some extent, the Code of Federal Regulations) during the past eight years. It’s time for the party to make a clean break and return to first principles, as well. Conservatives will never win a debate about how much should be spent — the debate has to be about whether spending is even a good idea in the first place.