The Obstructionists Lost

With President Obama’s signature affixed to the economic stimulus bill, his landmark victory can be put in proper political context. Regardless of that bill’s manifest imperfections and the messy legislative process, the new administration achieved a difficult objective on the tightest possible schedule. His Republican opponents congratulate themselves for remaining unified in defeat and whine about the president’s refusal to capitulate to them—but in fact it is they who have failed in the initial episode of a confrontation that will certainly continue for the coming four years.

It is impossible to understand what happened in Washington and the nation over the past few weeks without recognizing that the stimulus is historic in size and scope. Even if the spending plans ought to have been even larger, as many economists advocated, this $787 billion package represents an enormous departure from the conservative ideology (if not the actual fiscal practice) that has ruled American politics over the past three decades.

Overcoming the strong institutional bias against deficit spending on this scale is an accomplishment, even in the current climate of fear. The false notion that government should never spend more than it collects in revenue still exerts a powerful influence on the minds of voters—and was reinforced by misinformed media commentary throughout the debate over the stimulus.

Entering the Oval Office, Mr. Obama had set a daunting and somewhat contradictory set of priorities for himself. He had promised to remake the American economy even as he tried to revive it, with green jobs, better health care and improved schools. Economic conditions grew increasingly dire as he and his newly assembled team tried to create a plan to reverse the deflating spiral of dread and despair.

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The Obstructionists Lost