The Blog

Barack Obama is Not Making Sense

9:48 PM, Feb 5, 2009 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The White House has its signals crossed. President Obama flew to Williamsburg, Va., tonight to address the House Democrats. Originally the speech was supposed to be off the record. But the White House decided to let the cameras in so that the president's appeal for the economic stimulus bill could be heard around the world.

And what an appeal. Obama lambasted Republican critics of the stimulus and heaped scorn on the Bush administration for piling up the national debt. He said the stimulus bill could end the "tyranny of oil," whatever that means, and made fun of Republicans for questioning whether some of the spending in the bill is actually stimulative. "What do you think 'stimulus' is?" Obama said. "It's spending -- that's the whole point! Seriously." (Just an aside: Obama is wrong. Stimulus is short-term spending to increase aggregate demand during an economic downturn. When the economy recovers, the stimulus spending is supposed to stop. The spending in Obama's plan doesn't stop after the economy recovers. Quite the contrary. Most of the spending is long-term.)

Obama's performance was fiery. He went way off script. He seemed genuinely angry. He's already blaming Republicans for holding up the stimulus -- even though the GOP leader in the Senate says he has no intention of filibustering the bill. No bill, however important, ought to be passed without scrutiny. Certainly Democrats, who have spent the last eight years criticizing Republicans for rushing into things, should realize that.

The speech to the House Democrats is just part of Obama's stimulus counteroffensive. He published an op-ed in today's Washington Post and delivered equally strong remarks this afternoon at the Department of Energy (you can read them here.) The White House has recognized that the debate over the stimulus is spinning out of control and that the bill is in serious danger. So they've retooled their message to make it more aggressive.

One problem. Logically, that message makes no sense. At the Energy Department, Obama said the "time for action is now," but then said that "I would love to see additional improvements" to the stimulus. He says he welcomes new ideas, then goes to Williamsburg, blames the economic crisis on the GOP alone, and says conservative economic policies have been discredited. He says he's not trying to ram this legislation through Congress, then warns of looming economic catastrophe if the package isn't signed into law quickly.

As Obama delivered his call to arms, the Senate debated its version of the stimulus. Earlier this evening, word was that Harry Reid was going to force the Senate to debate all night in order to bring the legislation to a vote. Then, hours later, Reid sent the Senate home and asked them to try again tomorrow. The bipartisan group of senators who want to pare the stimulus back by $100 billion will be given another chance to rein in some of the spending.

So who told Reid to get some rest? To let the folks with the discredited ideas shape the bill? The White House!

Confusion reigns. The stimulus has hit rocky shoals. There's now a chance that the legislation may have to be seriously revised. A tell-tale sign in politics is when people get angry. It means they are losing the argument. Obama is angry. And he has only himself to blame.