“The Action Americans Need”

Because many Republican are in denial about the harm that came from pursuing a hands off, let the economy heal itself policy during the Great Depression, and because they cannot accept the prominent role that fiscal policy played in ending it, they are making the same mistakes all over again. Unfortunately, and perhaps by way of explanation, they won’t have to pay for the costs of the their mistakes, those costs will fall largely on others, e.g. households who suddenly and unexpectedly find their financial foundations ripped out from under them as jobs that could have been saved are lost:

The New Landonists, by Harold Meyerson, Commentary, Washington Post: The leader of the Republican Party was fulminating against the Democratic president’s programs. All that government spending… The problem was that the president didn’t trust the market to right the economy…

And then there was that Republican radio ad featuring a couple wondering if they could afford to get married in a nation with so profligate a government. “All those debts!” said Mary. “Somebody is giving us a dirty deal,” said John. The ad concluded with a somber narrator saying, “And the debts, like the sins of the fathers, shall be visited upon the children, aye, even unto the third and fourth generations.”

The speeches were those of Alf Landon, the Republican presidential nominee of 1936, who turned his campaign into an attack on the New Deal and all its (public) works, including the debts that those works incurred. …Alf Landon lost to Franklin Roosevelt by the widest margin in the history of presidential elections…

[T]he Greatest Generation voters who gave FDR towering majorities … warmed to a president who used public funds to bring electricity to rural America rather than wait for private utilities to get around to it…, they backed a president who put 4 million Americans on the payroll of the Works Progress Administration…, and they actually found value in such federal “make-work” creations as post offices, libraries and the Triborough Bridge.

And the debt that John and Mary’s government incurred? Invested as it was in productive infrastructure, it enabled them to live by far the most prosperous lives that any generation had ever lived. …

Today, the arguments made for and against President Obama’s stimulus plan really aren’t that different… Republicans … remain locked in Landonism. While retail chains topple like so many dominos as consumers cut back, the Republicans focus on cutting corporate taxes, as though the problem confronting American businesses was the tax on their profits rather than the fact that, in the absence of sales, they have no profits. …

Republicans and the Blue Dog Democrats exhibit a Landonesque failure to appreciate the … essence of the crisis… [W]hat distinguishes … the current meltdown from every recession between the ’30s and today, is that, left to their own devices, private lending and investment will not and cannot bounce back. Only the government can provide the capital to restart capitalism, which remains, absent diligent regulation, a periodically self-annihilating system. …

The Greatest Generation’s voters … rejected Landon’s belief that “the American economic system” would by itself fix the crisis it had created. We can only hope that today’s Americans have the wisdom of their forebears.

Here’s Barack Obama’s defense of the stimulus bill:

The Action Americans Need, by Barack Obama, Commentary, Washington Post: By now, it’s clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring.

What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives — action that’s swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis. … That’s why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan… This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending — it’s a strategy for America’s long-term growth and opportunity…

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures…

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We’ve seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

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. … Americans … have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington’s bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn’t written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time.


Originally published at the Economist’s View reproduced here with the author’s permission.

2 Responses to "“The Action Americans Need”"

  1. Jim   February 5, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    You’re kidding right? How does using “public funds to bring electricity to rural America” and the building of “post offices, libraries and the Triborough Bridge,” that is, the building of real assets with the public money, compare to, for example, a political payoff to ACORN.The complaints I’ve heard, by the majority of American’s as well as the Republican’s, is not that there will be spending, but what’s being bought.

  2. Guest   February 16, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    asdad