By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
In the White House Office of Media Relations—where I once worked—staffers like me used to line up third-party advocates to support Administration policies. "Surrogates," they're called, such as Congressmen, Governors and the like and they are persuaded to to sign op-eds pieces in local newspapers. Longer magazine profiles and think pieces by the president can serve a strategic purpose, but short hits in newspapers on specific bills are "not Presidential." Leave the street-fighting over legislation to the surrogates, it goes, and keep the president above it all. But in a world of Twitters, YouTube and Blackberries, that has all changed.
President Obama signed an op-ed this morning in the Washington Post, and it's a quick hit that would have been better left unwritten. In it, he overpromises results from a bill that hasn't been finalized and is still having amendments added in the Senate as I write this. But he says the stimulus bill will be "swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis." How does he know that? Maybe it will, but none of us really knows yet what is going to happen.
The president promises more than a fix for housing, jobs and banks—he guarantees massive government involvement in many sectors of our economy—from energy to healthcare to schools to access to the internet. He goes on to promise "unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent." That's a big deal if he can deliver it. We've been waiting for that for years.
The president would have been wise to invite the loyal opposition to join him in supporting the bill, or at least to acknowledge that reasonable minds can disagree on the road to compromise. But instead, he rejects criticism of the stimulus plan and reminds readers that his side won. He seems to blame Republicans for everything causing our country to fall apart:
I reject these theories [criticizing the stimulus], and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.
Anyone opposing the current stimulus package is engaging in "old ideological battles," "narrow partisanship," "bad habits," and "the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action," he writes. I guess that includes not only the House Republicans, but economic experts Martin Feldstein and Alice Rivlin, the other 250 economists who have publicly stated their reservations.
Most of Washington is engaged in a battle of ideas, for the first time in a long time, about the meaning of capitalism and free markets and government intervention. The future of our economy is at stake, and the president would have been better off not engaging in overblown rhetoric and name-calling on the op-ed page. He came across as partisan and strident about the future, instead of inclusive and thoughtful. Someone else should have signed that op-ed.
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