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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Should Obama Veto His Own Bi-Curious Stimulus Package?

Monday’s Senate vote was anything but bipartisan - it was merely “bi-curious" at best.  (The House stimulus plan got zero Republican votes last month; the Senate version got just three Republican votes.) Remember, Obama really, really wanted a bipartisan plan, which made good political sense: What if the Democrat stimulus fails to stimulate the economy? The Wall Street Journal says we’ll be out of ammunition and deeper in the hole - and Democrats will shoulder all the blame.

If catastrophe truly is the result of what can be called "the Democrats’ plan," then won’t Republicans gloat I-told-you-so? Won’t right wing talk radio whip up the faithless to run Obama out of office?  We just might see the right wing step up and take over, ending Obama’s failed attempt at so-called socialism and maybe his presidency.  Pile on to this crisis the terrorist attack Dick Cheney keeps squawking about (which will result, of course, from liberals’ unwillingness to torture innocent prisoners at Guantanamo), and the Party of Obama will be over.

Please tell me why my gloom and doom is wrong:

Posted by Brian J. Foley on February 10, 2009 at 10:52 PM | Permalink


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Brian, darling, relax. If the stimulus fails, do you think that the Republicans will be able to run around the country arguing for... Hooverism? Or for tax cuts? See, their problem is that balancing the budget during a depression, or cutting taxes for the wealthy when the economy tanks -- these ideas just don't work, no matter how much you spin them. If there are bread lines, people are going to resent the rich, and their party, even more than they do now. It took several iterations for FDR's efforts to work. Yet he remained popular. Obama is too good a thinker and politician to let the Republicans win the rhetorical war. The real danger in such a situation, I think, will be real socialists and populists of the Huey Long, Father Coughlin ilk.

Posted by: Vladimir | Feb 11, 2009 12:56:25 AM

The Obama administration doesn't have a clue on how to solve this economic crisis. Unfortunately, neither does the GOP.

We're screwed. Seriously.

Posted by: Doug | Feb 11, 2009 8:58:14 AM

No, I think your gloom and doom - maybe a better word would be trepidation - is warranted. The reason that Obama did not get a bipartisan bill is that he didn't propose one. You really can't expect supply side conservatives to support a enormous package put together without their participation (in a time frame that almost guarantees screwups) loaded with programs that they do not believe will bring benefits that outweigh the costs.

Now, if you believe in this stuff, what he's done is bet the farm on the idea that you are right. If it doesn't work (and, in fairness, the economy can (and usually does) improve or fail to improve for reasons that have nothing to do with government policy), it is on Obama and the Democrats.

It is true that, should this happen, the GOP will be hard pressed to come up with anything new and bold because of the magnitude of the failed stimulus bill. Presumably the economy will still be in the doldrums and public debt will be enormous and about to get worse as our long ignored entitlement bomb explodes. But,at least initially, that won't matter.

Posted by: Rick Esenberg | Feb 11, 2009 10:28:43 AM

So you're concerned that if the Democratic spending plan fails to stimulate the economy, then Democrat officeholders might be punished at the polls.

But isn't that precisely how politics is **supposed** to work?

Posted by: Adam | Feb 11, 2009 1:29:23 PM

Adam, I am concerned that a plan is going to go through that won't work, and then we'll be saddled not only with economic doom but also with a triumphalist and opportunistic right wing rising from the ashes. A bipartisan plan that fails won't necessarily result in a victory for either side. (It may be that Republicans know that no plan will work and are refusing to be involved in this plan because they know they can then profit politically from the failure.)

I'd rather see no need for "punishment" of anybody. I wish our politicians would just get this right - and consider that maybe no plan is a valid response. Any economists out there?

Posted by: Brian J. Foley | Feb 11, 2009 2:30:43 PM

"and then we'll be saddled not only with economic doom but also with a triumphalist and opportunistic right wing rising from the ashes"

This is almost parody. You're fretting not only that the economy will have problems, but also that the public might (hypothetically) come around to agreeing with the GOP following the Democratic President and Congress's enactment of an astonishingly expensive spending bill?

And your parenthetical description of possible Republican motives is laugh-out-loud funny. You suggest that if "Republicans know that no plan will work," then their "refusal to be involved in this plan" owes solely to the possibility of future political profit, and *not* to principled refusal to sign on to legislation that they believe will exacerbate the present economic situation.

Let me also add that I find it quite ironic that you simultaneously (1) disclaim the need for "punishment" of anybody, yet (2) you fear that the public could be "saddled" with an "opportunistic right wing rising from the ashes."

That said, I do agree with you on one point: congressional Democrats and the President need to slow their legislative freight train and consider whether "no plan is a valid response" (to say nothing of the possible validity of alternative plans of action proposed by various Republicans).

Posted by: Adam | Feb 11, 2009 2:42:34 PM

Adam, good we agree on that final point.

My point is that just because the Democrats may be wrong with this package, it doesn't mean that the Republicans who oppose it will have the right answers -- going forward. For example, I can disagree with your proposal, and I might be correct in my criticism, but that doesn't mean that if a solution is required going forward that I can create the right one. It's easy to criticize. It's hard to create.

Unfortunately, our public political discourse is too often black and white: Dems wrong, Repubs right, or vice versa.

I am concerned about a resurgence of the right wing because I didn't enjoy the last eight years - expanded executive power; a war on science; torture; surveillance of US citizens; aggressive war; etc. Those years did not benefit many people. It would especially be sad to see such a resurgence based on the false premise that the Republicans, by not going with one of many possible plans, have the correct solution going forward.

Slow the freight train, yes. Get alternatives out there. Perhaps our leaders can have the political courage to admit they don't have all the answers and call together some sort of economic forum?

Posted by: Brian J. Foley | Feb 11, 2009 3:31:46 PM

Brian, I don't see any sort of false dichotomy in play. The voters could well choose (in a hypothetical situation where the current spending bill does not turn the economy around) that the Democratic Party's failure was sufficient to justify handing the reins of government back over to the GOP, to see if it has better answers going forward.

There's nothing particularly pernicious about that. President Obama was elected largely on the basis of the GOP's failure to prevent the current economic situation, and not because Obama offered a better plan in the alternative. (Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, Obama still hasn't proposed stimulus legislation.)

Again, I can't help but note that you attempt to have it both ways: on the one hand, you decry the fact that "public political discourse is too often black and white: Dems wrong, Repubs right, or vice versa," but on the other hand you bemoan the possibility of "a triumphalist and opportunistic right wing rising from the ashes," and that a "right wing" was responsible for "years [that] did not benefit many people."

Posted by: Adam | Feb 11, 2009 3:46:50 PM

Adam, until we have viable third parties, we effectively will have false dichotomies. If you feel strongly that you want to "punish" Democrats for a their failed stimulus package by voting them out of office, you will get Republicans, not Ralph Nader or Bob Barr. If you vote out the Dems for this failed package, you will get ... torture, surveillance, stifling of science, etc. That's the way it is.

Don't get me wrong. If this plan fails, the Democrats probably should not get to run our country. (And I don't wave a flag for them - they were dismal as an opposition party.) But the alternative isn't pretty, at least to me. (And also don't get me wrong - I am not confident the Democrats will end torture and surveillance and an aggressive military posture, though I'm a bit more confident they won't stifle science.)

Posted by: Brian J. Foley | Feb 11, 2009 4:11:08 PM

Brian, Adam,

This plan will fail if it is not significantly overhauled. I have 2 real basic problems with the plan on a political level - first - only $30 Billion goes into the economy this year. That isn't even 5% of this monster. If that is all going in this year with an emergency bailout then all of our dem leaders are nuttier than fruitcake. Second problem...with all the controversy ACORN had already caused, why in God's name are they included in this package (and the Bank bail-out) for over $4 Billion dollars. That makes them a fortune 500 activist company. And they will not only continue to ruin public faith in national elections, but also local and state. I can't believe that any Democrat would associate with that organization. I think it is great to work to get more people involved, but with so many instances of voter fraud by them in the last election.....anyway...I'll get off that soapbox. One more - when you give money to people who didn't pay any taxes, that is not a tax cut, it is wealth redistribution, and that person, if they are worth the extra money, should have got a job somewhere else and not been satisfied to stay in their current position. Give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and he can feed himself.

Economists have studied the effects of government spending and private spending for hundreds of years and the conclusions have never changed. For every dollar the government spends you kill 30% of the equivalent in private money. What is the most efficient way to give money back to the people and corporations that are trying to make a profit and supply jobs - cut payroll and corporate tax rates, you and I would see the difference next week, but that would give you and me (the private sector) the ability to choose what businesses live and die, not the US government..and that is what they want - the power and control. They could care less about you and I if they didn't need our votes, it is all about the power. (Chris Dodd never complained about his Dem budy making $80MM a year as CEO for Fanny Mae, and never turned down a campaign contribution from them or Freddie.) Anyway, if the bill gets passed as it is, because I am a blue blooded American, I hope it does fail, because this bill lays the ground work for Communism, whether inadvertently or not.

Posted by: BJ | Feb 11, 2009 5:04:16 PM

Thanks, BJ.

I don't know if it's a good plan or not or if there should be another plan or no plan ... My instinct, though, is to say that some of these businesses should fail (call it creative destruction) ... If we're going to hand out money, let's give some to people who want to start businesses ... Let's also give money to people so that their basic needs (housing, food, health care, education) are met. It's hard to learn to fish when you don't have a roof over your head. There will always be some people who cannot work. There are other people who, when jobs are scarce, will simply be left out until they are "retrained." Provide that.

Posted by: Brian J. Foley | Feb 11, 2009 5:34:40 PM

I thought everyone at this point knew that there was not massive voter fraud on the part of ACORN representatives. There was some, but it was actually vanishingly small compared to the legitimate work that ACORN did, and continues to do. The few bad apples in the ACORN barrel were seized upon by the right wing in an effort to discredit the whole organization. Why–because ACORN is actually doing a lot of good, actually helping people. And the thing is, the right doesn't want to help people

Unless, that is, the people in question are the ones who have ruined the economy through irresponsible and sometimes even criminal business practices.

Them we help.

Posted by: Marilyn | Feb 11, 2009 9:59:51 PM

innocent prisoners at Guantanamo

Yeah, sure. Most of them are just a bunch of choir boys. I'm not advocating that they be tortured; however, I would hardly say all of them are innocent.

Posted by: anon | Feb 12, 2009 3:45:51 AM

"If you vote out the Dems for this failed package, you will get ... torture, surveillance, stifling of science, etc. That's the way it is."

I think that with that sort of broad-brushed nonsense, you've effectively abdicated any remaining credibility in bemoaning the fact that "our public political discourse is too often black and white: Dems wrong, Repubs right, or vice versa."

Setting aside the widely debated question of whether certain Administration actions constituted "torture" under various statutes and treaties, your assertion that "surveillance" and the "stifling of science" are the exclusive province of the GOP are laughably inaccurate. Broad surveillance of international communications was endorsed by none other than President (then-Senator) Obama in the latest round of legislation on the subject. And the canard that the GOP "stifl[es] science" has been thoroughly discredited by such thoughtful writers as Yuval Levin.

I'm generally a silent observer of this web site, which is on the whole quite good. But some posts make me throw up my hands, forcing me to resign myself to the fact that PrawfsBlawg's general rule fails to hold in the specific case. Which is to say that on some occasions "partisanship" will quite manifestly "trump" "intellectual honesty."

This post is a stark example of such a case.

Posted by: Adam | Feb 12, 2009 9:58:51 AM

First Anon, then Adam ...

Anon: On choirboys at Guantanamo, check out my article, "Guantanamo and Beyond: Dangers of Rigging the Rules," in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Here's a link to the SSRN page:


Most of the prisoners were not even rounded up by U.S. forces but by Pakistan and warring Afghan tribes, who responded to U.S. offers of a bounty for terrorists. (What a way to get rid of your enemies!) The U.S. tribunals at Guantanamo were created with amazingly weak protections - they were obviously created to "prove" the U.S. was right in naming these guys "enemy combatants." In note 22 I discuss work by Mark Denbeaux (Seton Hall) and Joshua Denbeaux, Esq. who analyzed data about 517 prisoners. You can see their work at these links:




The Denbeauxs' conclusions are stark. For example, only eight percent of these prisoners were Al Qaeda fighters. Only five percent of these prisoners were rounded up by U.S. forces.

It's hard to say with certainty that any prisoner is guilty, even ones who "confessed," given the interrogation methods used. In my article, I discuss how this system of mass roundups and interrogations using coercive methods (torture and "torture lite") leads to inaccurate information and ultimately impedes our intelligence gathering and analysis. It's not only an illegal and immoral system, it's counterproductive.

Adam: Who's discredited himself? Who's the partisan?

You've also misstated what I've said - see the end of a previous post where I wrote,

"Don't get me wrong. If this plan fails, the Democrats probably should not get to run our country. (And I don't wave a flag for them - they were dismal as an opposition party.) But the alternative isn't pretty, at least to me. (And also don't get me wrong - I am not confident the Democrats will end torture and surveillance and an aggressive military posture, though I'm a bit more confident they won't stifle science.)"

Your partisanship and your desire to paint your opponents as such has made you blind.

Posted by: Brian J. Foley | Feb 12, 2009 10:42:22 AM

As I understand it, your complaint is basically that we have a two-party system where power is transferred following changes in public opinion (which in large part changes as a result of things [e.g., the business cycle] unrelated to either party's policies or actions).

Also, the implication is that it would be better if either we had viable third-parties or at least one of the major parties was really good (e.g., could pass legislation that would end the recession).

... well, yeah.

Posted by: JP | Feb 12, 2009 1:23:11 PM

JP: I'll call that the "MOBY DICK is just a book about a guy chasing a whale" response!

Posted by: Brian J. Foley | Feb 12, 2009 1:49:48 PM

Brian: Fair enough, although I thought I did the opposite. I meant to explicate a broad view from your specific comment, rather than a narrow view from a broad one (and then validate both points). That is, I think your gloom and doom is warranted both for the likely effect of the stimulus, and for American democracy generally.

Posted by: JP | Feb 12, 2009 3:06:33 PM

Brian, I never denied that I'm a partisan. (Which is not to say that my legal analses always follow my political preferences. I've written legal papers squarely critical of the GOP's position.)

The only difference is that I'm honest about it. I won't argue, on the one hand, for an end to black-and-white political arguments, while at the same time denouncing the "right wing" in cartoonish terms.

As for my alleged "blindness": You're right that I didn't read the rest of your post. After seeing your absurd, Michael-Moorish trope ("If you vote out the Dems for this failed package, you will get ... torture, surveillance, stifling of science, etc. That's the way it is."), I raced to comment on it. But when you dump nonsense about the GOP "stifling science" -- again, the sort of accusation one might expect on DailyKos but not on an otherwise reputable legal blog -- you'll have to pardon your readers if they don't read the remainder of the post with great interest.

To be blunt, it's not the sort of error that arises when I read the vast majority of posts on this blog, which are overwhelmingly cogent, level-headed, and intellectually honest.

Posted by: Adam | Feb 13, 2009 4:10:28 PM

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