This will only be semi-snarky because Joe Klein raises a good question about the stim bill and people’s total lack of understanding of what it was for:
Absolutely amazing poll results from CNN today about the $787 stimulus package: nearly three out of four Americans think the money has been wasted. On second thought, they may be right: it’s been wasted on them. Indeed, the largest single item in the package–$288 billion–is tax relief for 95% of the American public. This money is that magical $60 to $80 per month you’ve been finding in your paycheck since last spring. Not a life changing amount, but helpful in paying the bills.
The next highest amount was $275 billion in grants and loans to states. This is why your child’s teacher wasn’t laid off…and why the fire station has remained open, and why you’re not paying even higher state and local taxes to close the local budget hole.
It turns out that what people are really upset about is all that wasteful money that has gone to political public works projects…except that the overwhelming portion of that money hasn’t been spent yet. Remember all those “shovel-ready” projects? Well, they didn’t exist. The big jobs-creating projects like the rebuilt “smart” electric grid, major highways and fast trains will come on line during the next year. (Although these projects might have gotten greater public support if they’d been chosen by a National Infrastructure Bank–a panel of experts, like the fed–that would have picked them according to their value added, rather than by the bozo appropriators in the Congress.)
So, two thoughts:
1. The Obama Administration has done a terrible job explaining the stimulus package to the American people…especially since there have been very few documented cases of waste so far.
2. This is yet further evidence that Americans are flagrantly ill-informed…and, for those watching Fox News, misinformed.
No sense in arguing about what was in the stim bill, although I think Klein hugely exaggerates the effects of the bill at the state level for most people who don’t live in California, New York, Illinois, and a few other states where budgets nearly doubled over the last decade. And, of course, no mention of the money the federal government won’t be sending to pay for increased mandates in unemployment insurance and health care.
But is one of the problems that the Obama administration hasn’t explained the package properly? I seem to recall that the impetus to pass this bill in the first place was to avoid unemployment rising above 8% and that it was desperately needed to create and “save” jobs. In fact, this bill was so desperately needed that Members of Congress were told to forget about reading the bill and just pass it already. It was a national emergency and that unless the bill was passed, we would be doomed - doomed I tell you!
Perhaps what Klein really means is that the American people paid too much attention to what the administration was saying and should have had the cynical sophistication to realize they were lying through their teeth spreading around that kind of bullsh*t. How stupid can we be to have taken Obama and the Democrats at their word?
And Klein’s childlike contention that “there have been very few documented cases of waste so far…” is so precious, don’t you just want to give the fellow a great big hug for being so cute? Kids and liberals say the darndest things, don’t they?
Income transfer payments did not belong in an economic stimulus bill. Education funds did not belong in a bill to stimulate the economy. Democrats just didn’t want to take those two spending programs up separately where they would have met resistance due to their price tag. I doubt, for instance, that Congress would have approved $6 billion for construction at universities and colleges - not when almost all of them had building funds to begin with and endowments the size of many African country GDP’s.
But let’s get to the thesis of Mr. Klein’s essay; that we Americans are too uninformed - “flagrantly” so - and that Fox News “misinforms.” (Nice that you can make a statement like that and not have to back it up with any concrete example - not like if we said the same thing about Time.)
Klein also calls us a bunch of extinct birds:
It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.
First of all, the stim bill is a long way from being a “basic activity” of the federal government. That’s pretty much an idiotic and ill informed thing to say yourself, Joe. There probably aren’t more than a couple of thousand Americans who read the entire bill and fewer than that who understood it. Klein obviously didn’t understand what was in it or he wouldn’t have made an ass of himself saying there was very little waste in it.
There was a time 221 years ago when we were a coastal republic of 8 million people that any reasonably aware citizen could pick up a newspaper and follow along with what the government was doing, understanding what Congress was talking about in a way that is absolutely impossible today.
No one understands what our government is doing today. No one person can possibly be aware of what the hundreds of departments, agencies, boards, and panels that make decisions every single day that affect our lives, our economy, and our security are up to. It is a physical impossibility to keep up with it all. Even addicts like those reading this catch only glimpses, hints, and broad generalities of what is going on in Washington and all the satellite bureaucracies that dot the countryside.
As for Congress, there may be a couple of thousand lobbyists, lawyers, media, and C-Span addicts who are up to speed on what the people’s representatives are doing in the people’s name. And many fewer still can grasp the mind boggling complexity of much of the legislation that is crafted on Capitol Hill. Ever read a 50 page amendment to ERISA? No language course on earth could prepare you to grasp the reason for the legislation much less what it said.
How many citizens in the US understand the budget process? I can guarantee that Klein doesn’t, the dodo. Is he trying to tell us that he has been hired by Time, is paid an untold amount of money to tell us What It All Means, and he can’t even explain how the budget process is supposed to work? Not the cliffs notes version, but the way that Congress intended.
The way I see it is simple, logical, and elegant; the American people understand as much about government as they feel they need to - no more, no less. Some don’t want to know anything. In this country, they enjoy that freedom and shouldn’t have to worry about some snot nosed demi-reporter like Klein telling them otherwise. They also have the perfect freedom not to vote which, if you correlated knowledge about government with non-voting, the instances of both merging together would probably be fairly high.
For the great majority, there is interest in local issues much more than national ones. There are millions who couldn’t tell you the outline of the stim bill but who might be able to quote you chapter and verse on the latest school funding issue. This is the way it should be, even if Bozo’s like Klein wring their hands like old women that citizens don’t find important the same things they do.
Sure it would be great if everyone could intelligently discuss cap and trade or the latest Commerce Department regs dealing with sales of restricted items overseas. We could all sit down in Klein’s drawing room, good cigar smoke wreathing our heads, a glass of Courvoisier giving everything an agreeable blurriness around the edges, while Klein and his friends could tell us what we should be thinking.
Until then, Joe is just going to have to put up with people and their own, flawed perceptions of government and politics. After all, we can’t all be as astute and brilliant as Joe Klein. If that were the case, who would pay him too much money to write like an elitist pig?