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More Platitudes on Obama's Stimulus Publicity Tour

4:39 PM, Feb 9, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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A friend of mine from near Elkhart, Ind. IMed a few moments ago to say that the local radio and TV stations carried Obama's visit to Elkhart, live. Elkhart has the nation's highest unemployment, at more than 15 percent, due to the collapse of RV market, which was its economy's foundation.

My friend's read was that the crowds were kind to Obama but unimpressed with his answers. I looked up the local radio station's take on the event, and found this:

Obama fielded their questions in a town hall-style meeting at Concord High School that began shortly after noon.

"When you allocate money for Elkhart, Indiana, will it come directly into Elkhart or will it first go somewhere else?" a woman said.

"We have to make sure it's not someone's special project that won't actually help people." Obama said.

Obama said the public will be able to track the expenditure of stimulus money on a new Web site called www.recovery.gov.

"You'll be able to get on that Web site and say, ‘I thought this was supposed to be going toward school construction but I haven't seen any changes being made.'"

More directly answering the woman's question, Obama said some stimulus money, such as money to extend unemployment insurance benefits, will go to state governments because the states deliver those services.

But for other projects, such as those related to transportation infrastructure and education, the money will go both to state and local communities, Obama said.

"We may be working directly with school superintendents to see which schools are most in need of help and can get some construction going.

"But the key is we will have strong oversight and transparency to make sure this money is well spent," Obama said. "Now, there will be some people who say this is a pork bill, but this bill does not have a single earmark in it, which is unprecedented for its size."

That will depend on the type of spending, Obama replied.

"We have to get the money passed but we also have to make sure it's well spent," Obama said.

The president said a bipartisan board will review how the stimulus money is being spent.

Does it sound to you like the President is at all knowledgeable about what is actually in this bill? "No special projects," "transparency," "infrastructure," "bipartisan," "oversight," repeat. The overwhelming sentiment at the Obama stimulus parties I attended this weekend was that Obama was far too vague about this massive bill, Tim Kaine didn't seem to know much about what was in it, and their failures meant activists couldn't translate the importance of the bill for friends and family. The message has not improved with this week's P.R. push.

Obama's full remarks are, here, and Allah has partial video of this rhetorical tour de expectations lowering.

The cloture vote in the Senate is set for just minutes from now, before Obama goes on TV tonight to give a magical speech, delivering lofty couplets of understanding to the downtrodden and demagogic predictions of doom to those not yet downtrodden.

He'll get the thing passed today, but not by much. Americans will likely pay more attention to the conference process than Democrats would like, and moderate Republicans may pay more attention to the corresponding polls than Obama would like. Susan Collins has already tepidly asserted she'll vote against the final bill if it becomes too porky in conference, but I wouldn't count on it.

However it turns out in the end, it's certainly been a bruising foray into Congressional wrangling for the new president. Perhaps if he hadn't been so busy voting present all those years, he would have been a little more prepared for the inevitable rough-and-tumble. Instead, he left Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to craft and direct his self-professed most important measure to prevent "catastrophe," instead of leading on it himself.

And, we all know what it looks like when you let Pelosi and Reid do your pitching for you. It's so bad, "SNL" has trouble even parodying it: