There are many good things to say about the stimulus bill. But all in all, it wasn’t as good as it could be: It’s probably too small and too skewed toward tax cuts, and particularly cuts for upper-income people who won’t necessarily spend them. The bank bailout is, well, a mystery, but at best a political fiasco. What’s the problem here?
I’ll give the three obvious answers before saying what I think is the fundamental problem: First, as for the administration, Obama didn’t get out on the stump soon enough to explain why government spending is essential, and his Treasury Secretary doesn’t at this point appear up to the job. Secondly, the Congressional Republicans either don’t know any economics or are willing to put the country at risk to advance their own party’s fortune. Third, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid failed again–the previous instance was over the auto bailout–to use the power of his position to win support for Democratic initiatives.
But I think the main reason that Obama is having trouble is that there is not a popular left movement that is agitating for him to go well beyond where he would even ideally like to go. Sure, there are leftwing intellectuals like Paul Krugman who are beating the drums for nationalizing the banks and for a $1 trillion-plus stimulus. But I am not referring to intellectuals, but to movements that stir up trouble among voters and get people really angry. Instead, what exists of a popular left is either incapable of action or in Obama’s pocket.