Grading the stimulus participants

A stimulus agreement was reached.  We should be so impressed.  Far from a perfect package, it could still face resistance from the left in the House.  Too much was cut, but the original bill was terrible also.  So it went from bad to awful, but I think we have to look at the stimulus a bit differently now.  The fact remains that it still has more spending than tax cuts.  That in itself is a step forward.  And we have to keep in mind that Obama did promise a tax cut in the campaign.  And unlike a lot of here in our blue world, I think the President didn't emphasize the tax cut portion of the package enough when it first rolled out.

So how did some of the key participants grade out?  Here's my view:

President Obama:  C+.  Was distracted by Cabinet miscues, and he lost control of both the process and the debate.  He didn't get out there selling the stimulus from day one.  Also, there was no plan to counter GOP talking points on the TV talk shows.  He allowed the House bill to be filled with some fluff which was easy fodder for the Republicans.  Granted some of the proposals were worthy, but should have been saved for the budget.  The contraceptives funding was a great idea, but provided the GOP with an easy target.  After the Daschle fiasco, he found his voice, and gave rousing sppeched to the Dept. of Energy and to the House Democrats.  And's he's going out on the road to conduct town halls in Indiana and Florida.  Did his rhetoric save the day?  Perhaps.

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The Word For This: Triangulation

Over at his new digs, Greg Sargent digs into some disturbing new poll numbers from Rasmussen:

Are Dem Congressional leaders  Nancy Pelosi and  Harry Reid the victims of the success of the new President from their own party?

Some new and intriguing polling out this morning suggests this possibility. Rasmussen Reports finds that to some degree, Dems in Congress are losing to the GOP in the spin wars over which party is treating the stimulus package in a more partisan manner. The poll finds that 58% think Dems are more partisan, while 52% think Republicans are -- not great numbers for the GOP, but obviously worse for Dems.

But here's the rub. The poll also finds that the public perceives President Obama as the bipartisan figure here; 42% say that he's governing in a bipartisan manner, while only 39% say he's governing as a partisan -- far better than either party in Congress.

This suggests that Obama's strategy of hovering above the fray while Dems duke it out with Republicans over the stim package is leading the public to perceive him in more positive terms than they view Congress -- but at the expense of his fellow Dems.

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"Let Him Lead"

One of the important questions facing our community, as well as the broader progressive movement and even the Democratic Party as a whole, is the proper amount of faith and fealty to vest in Barack Obama. As much as there have been leaders within the Democratic Party this decade, there hasn't been a leader in quite some time -- and certainly not since that leader had the capacity to effect real change.

Over at Daily Kos, Markos makes a strong case for a healthy dollop of skepticism.

Conservatives trusted Bush, thus let them destroy their party. I don't think it's smart to go down that path. There will always be debates about how much criticism is actually warranted, and there's a fine line between constructive and destructive criticisms. [...] But the notion that Obama is beyond criticism?

It's not entirely clear to me that it was the trust Republicans placed in former President Bush that was their death-knell, or rather the fact that George W. Bush was clearly not worthy of having that much power (his decisions were neither good for his party nor the nation as a whole), but the point is a good one.

Yet where that line is to be drawn is an important one. For better or for worse, parties are more effective when they are more or less unified. The Democrats had the trifecta of the White House, the Senate and the House sixteen years ago at the outset of the Clinton administration, and although the conservative noise machine and the unified GOP opposition were key to blocking the Democrats from achieving what they hoped to achieve, Democratic bickering and infighting played no small part in the party's inability to move the agenda it had run and won on. So a real part of me lines up with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had the following to say in her interview with this site posted yesterday:

[E]njoy hope and let him lead. Let him fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people. We will do our best to work with him with our best thinking on how to get the job done for the American people. But give him a chance to lead. Give it time.

And I think make judgments at the end of a Congress, at the end of a term, but not on the day today, because he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He brings to it a great vision, a great intellect, great strategic thinking, and great points to speak to the American people and give them hope. But he needs to be able to do it effectively, and that takes some time.

This isn't to say that we should bite our tongues for two or even four years, because I don't think that's wise -- and I'm certain that's not what the Speaker was implying. But if at the same time we are unwilling to take the leap with President Obama, unwilling to give him the time and opportunity to try to get done what needs to get done, what we elected him to accomplish, it's going to be significantly more difficult to achieve what we have hoped and strived and worked to achieve.

So, yes, there is room for constructive criticism, and making our voices heard. But to me it makes much more sense to do it in a way that moves the ball forward, rather than slows down or even stops the ball in its tracks, because I want to see universal healthcare and an end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell and real tax reform and an end to the War in Iraq and a whole host of things that we will all need to come together in the end to make happen.

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MyDD Interview with Nancy Pelosi

Audio Now Up

On Wednesday morning, January 21, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to talk about Barack Obama's inauguration, as well as the outlook for the 111th Congress.

The Speaker evinced a real understanding and vision for what needs to be done in the next two years. At the same time, she showed deference to and respect for President Obama, whom she was still clearly excited to have seen be sworn into office the day before, asking us to "let him lead," and to "make judgments at the end of a Congress, at the end of a term, but not on the day today."

During our conversation in her office in the Capitol, the Speaker expressed an amazement at what she called the "eloquence" of the crowd at the inauguration, while also making clear a determination to find out why a small, yet significant portion of those ticketed for the event were unfortunately unable to get in. We covered a wide range of issues, from the recovery package to healthcare to immigration to tax policy - which she indicated would be better approached holistically than in a piecemeal manner, perhaps indicating a desire for tax reform.

You can listen to the interview below, download it as an mp3, or read the rush transcript.

Jonathan Singer: How did you feel, both as the first inauguration of your speakership as well as just this historic moment in general?

Nancy Pelosi: We all knew it would be an emotional moment to see the first African-American sworn in as President of the United States. We all knew it would be great because of who he is and what a powerful intellect he has and [his] great vision for America.

It was pretty exciting, though, to see the crowd. He was eloquent, but the eloquence of that many people turning out in that low temperature and the attention that they paid... it was just sensational.

I loved the speech. It was really a document of vision and values for our country, commitment and courage to tell it the way it was. "These are our challenges."

Singer:"The era of responsibility" really stuck out to me. We can have times where we shirk our responsibilities, but this isn't that time.

Pelosi: It's a crisis. Shirking responsibility is a luxury we can rarely ever afford, but certainly not now.

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Boehner: Profile In Courage

When John McCain called a hasty press conference back in September, I was convinced he'd announce opposition to the $700 billion - instead he "suspended his campaign" and flew (leisurely) to Washington.

Then after one failed vote, enough House Republicans reversed themselves to pass the plan, despite its unpopularity. Had McCain and House Republicans joined to oppose the $700 billion, would we have seen a closer election? Maybe.

But now that the elections over, House Republican leader John Boehner has announced his opposition to releasing the balance of the TARP funds:

"I remain disappointed about the way TARP has been managed and how its resources have been spent over the last several months. From the outset, the program has been implemented with too little transparency and in a manner inconsistent with the way it was presented to Congress last fall. Until officials can present a clear plan to Congress -- and, most importantly, to taxpayers -- demonstrating how the expenditure of additional TARP funds will benefit our economy and making clear an exit strategy for getting the government back out of the private sector, it would be irresponsible for Congress to release the remainder of these resources. I will oppose the release of these taxpayer funds when the matter is considered on the House floor," Boehner said.

Translation: 'why yes, I will take this consequence-free political posture now that the election is over.'

So far, Boehner seems to only speak for himself, but the goal of opposition here is cynical: with the first half of TARP mismanaged under Republicans, Americans distrust the plan even why not force Democrats to own the policy exclusively?

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