History is written by the whiners
Is there any hope for the Stimulus?
More than seven years after the Recovery Act became law it’s clear to economists that the law improved and possibly saved the economy. But — despite the Herculean or Sisyphean efforts of Mike Grunwald — most people still have no idea what it did.
There’s no Hoover Dam to point to from the “biggest public works project since the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System,” but there is Tesla and the world’s largest solar farm.
Looking at the administration’s fact sheet, the scope of the law is almost impossible to comprehend now given how difficult it would be to pass a new toy train station through Congress. (Though corporate tax breaks totaling almost the size of the Stimulus passed last December without almost anyone noticing.)
Here’s a quick sampling of what we missed.
There’s the tax cuts that came when we most needed them — hidden so they would be more effective then completely forgotten — on top of 115,000 miles of broadband infrastructure, the 42,000 miles of roads and more than 2,700 bridges improved, the 150 high-speed rail projects, 1,072 upgrades to transit systems, 800 FAA projects, Pell grant expansions and $50 billion to keep teachers on the job.
And we haven’t even started on the law’s entree: the clean energy efforts, which manifested a vibrant American renewable energy sector from nothing, possibly saving the planet.
While it wasn’t nearly enough for activists — which is why we need activists — the Stimulus was figuratively a miracle when it comes to reducing carbon pollution, as Paul Krugman explains:
Recently Bill Gates declared, as he has a number of times over the past few years, that we need an “energy miracle” — some kind of amazing technological breakthrough — to contain climate change. But we’ve already had that miracle: the cost of electricity generated by wind and sun has dropped dramatically, while costs of storage, crucial to making renewables fully competitive with conventional energy, are plunging as we speak.
The result is that we’re only a few years from a world in which carbon-neutral sources of energy could replace much of our consumption of fossil fuels at quite modest cost.
That only happened because of the Stimulus (and is combined with the incredible campaign to hasten the end of coal industry).
“All it would take to push us across the line would be moderately pro-environment policies,” Krugman explains. But if a Republican wins, we’ll get the opposite — an full-blown effort to reverse this progress and erase these advancements.
Fans of drought and famine will rejoice!
President Obama being the most popular active politician indicates that the public does have some appreciation for what he’s accomplished. But it’s important to recognize how much effort Republicans make to canonize their heroes — or hero, since they’re basically down to Reagan — ignoring all the negatives, the legacy of debt and inequality, while inventing superlatives to describe his role spending the Soviet Union out of existence.
Democrats expect accomplishments to speak for themselves and often, justifiably, experience ambivalence over their own leaders records.
Lyndon Johnson is rightly reviled for waging the war in Vietnam, while his legacy on civil rights is only topped by Lincoln and his efforts to make America great through the Great Society are tarnished by the right. Democrats rightly know that tens of millions of Americans aren’t in poverty today because of LBJ. Medicare and Medicaid only trail Social Security as the greatest thing our government has ever done for our elders.
But even I was unaware of how Johnson’s efforts on education helped nearly double the high graduation rate and triple the percentage of Americans with college degrees. The National Institutes of Health along with the 1968 Hear, Cancer and Stroke Act helped increase life expectancy by 10 percent in a generation with the biggest improvement among the least advantaged. Add in the first Clean Air and Water Act and other environmental protections and Americans indubitably breathe easier because of LBJ.
Seriously, just looking at the Great Society’s Wikipedia page might blow your mind.
Rescuing the Stimulus is almost impossible in a world where most of us are ignorant of the full scope of the Great Society.
Until Democrats get serious about selling their own successes, they’ll be continually at risk of watching their accomplishments fade into history.