The heady and inspirational days of January 20th are over to be replaced with the contentious days of partisan politics, Washington style. President Obama has quickly learned that dreams of unity and common purpose are just that, dreams. As he has found out to his dismay, holding the closest thing to a national mandate does not translate into automatic policy victories.
There is no question that the national economy could use a fresh injection of stimulus money, but the Obama administration made its first strategic legislative miscalculation by not keeping a watchful eye on House Democrats ( especially Speaker Pelosi ) who could not help themselves from reverting to their old porkbarrel spending ways.
Even more problematic, Obama, who is an excellent communicator, failed to pitch the stimulus bill in simple terms with a few clear goals and no dubious appropriations such as sod for the Washington Mall and condom programs. The early handling of the stimulus package is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s failed health care reform, which was demolished due in large part to its complexity and weak public relations.
Because the Republicans are looking for any way to get back into the game, they immediately picked up on the inexperience of the Obama team and the avarice of the House Democrats and brilliantly painted the stimulus bill as just a misguided and over the top spending bill that won’t have its intended effect. House and Senate Republicans hammered home the message that the Democrats were back to their old tricks about expanding big government, and it worked. Obama and the Democratic leadership are in retreat and looking to cut out the pork.
Of course what the Republicans are fuming about in the stimulus bill is about 1% of the total that is proposed, but it doesn’t matter in the world of 24/7 cable, talk radio and the court of public opinion. The Republicans won the first test of the Obama agenda and in the process made the new president and the Democrats in Congress look like they were drafting legislation that was from the old liberal, big government laundry list playbook.
Needless to say, the Republicans really don’t have an answer about how we get out of this financial mess and the loss of millions of jobs, but they are now more confident than ever that their views and their message will not be drowned out by the Obama mandate. Chalk this one up to the over confidence of the new administration. Obama should have known better than to think the Republicans would play dead.