As I have written previously, a successful stimulus package is a political disaster for the Republican Party, perhaps relegating it to the political wilderness for a generation. So they have every reason to oppose it. But more depressing in some ways is the staggering ignorance and reckless incompetence of the mainstream media, whose reporting failures on the stimulus are beginning to rival its collective failures when it relentlessly hyped the bogus weapons of mass destruction story in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
By some accounts, for every one phone call coming into congressional offices in favor of the stimulus, one hundred are coming against it. The vaunted organizational skills of the Obama campaign appear to be sitting in neutral now that Obama is President. Meanwhile, the administration’s best weapon, the historically popular President himself, has arguably been spending too much time in the nitty gritty of policy work and not enough time trying to influence public opinion. Perhaps the administration was surprised by the unanimity and tenacity of GOP opposition to the still-popular stimulus. Perhaps it didn’t anticipate such extraordinarily negative media coverage. Whatever the explanation, Obama has now begun a more significant personal crusade to influence the debate.
Among his media stops yesterday was an interview with Katie Couric. Here’s part of the exchange he had with her yesterday:
Couric: Sen. Mitch McConnell said over the weekend that surely you’re privately embarrassed by some of the product that came out of the house version and let me just mention some of the spending in this package: $6.2 billion for home weatherization, $100 million for children to learn green construction…
Obama: Lets take that example. I’m stunned that Mitch McConnell use this as an example … We’re going to weatherize homes, that immediately puts people back to work and we’re going to train people who are out of work, including young people, to do the weatherization. As a consequence of weatherization, our energy bills go down and we reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What would be a more effective stimulus package than that? I mean, you’re getting a threefer. Not only are you immediately putting people back to work but you’re also saving families on your energy bills and you’re laying the groundwork for long term energy independence. That’s exactly the kind of program that we should be funding.”
This is the sort of work that Obama and his allies need to be doing relentlessly. And, unsurprisingly, Obama does it well here. But its worth pausing here for a moment to underline what a disaster our mainstream media are. If you or I interviewed Obama, we could be forgiven for offering poorly thought through examples of “embarrassing” spending in the stimulus bill. But, what’s Couric’s excuse? Presumably she prepared diligently for the interview. She’s not preparing for it alone, either, of course. She has a large staff of researchers and CBS news has access to an army of economists and other consultants to fact-check themselves. Perhaps you’re inclined to accept the extremely charitable explanation that Couric raised the weatherization example just to set Obama up to explain clearly what stimulus actually looks like. More likely though is the extraordinary fact that in all her preparation for this interview, none of Obama’s arguments ever occurred to her or to any of the people who helped her prepare for the interview. That all she knew was that weatherization sounded kind of tangential to economic stimulus and that Republicans, who always get their arguments aired, no matter how mindless, attacked it.
This is just one small example of the kind of uphill battle Obama faces in making sure that he gets a good bill through Congress – negotiating a relentless barrage of right-wing disinformation, refereed by an ignorant media. To succeed, he needs to drop his arguably unhealthy attachment to “bi-partisanship” and to start seeing this for what it is – a gun fight to which Obama needs to bring a loaded weapon.