Entering the Oval Office, Obama had set a daunting and somewhat contradictory set of priorities for himself. He had promized 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.
At the same time, he had also vowed to break the partisan deadlock in Washington by reaching out to the Republican opposition with respect and friendship. Many members of his own party doubted the wisdom of that course, knowing that the embittered minority was unlikely to respond in kind -- and of course they didn't. But had the president rolled over the Republicans from the beginning, he would rightly have been blamed for violating the trust he had earned during the campaign among independents and at least some Republicans.
In his effort to honor that pledge of bipartisanship, he surrendered too much too early in negotiations over the stimulus.
But in the end, he won -- and if he must return to Capitol Hill for more spending, as he almost surely will, then he need not make the same mistake again.
Nearly every poll now says that Obama's popularity and approval ratings remain at extraordinary levels. Just as important, he has displayed the capacity to persuade the public that his policies deserve support, as he did when he finally began to campaign on behalf of the stimulus last week. The latest Gallup survey shows that support for the stimulus rose markedly among Democrats and stabilized among both independents and Republicans as soon as he started speaking out forcefully.
Not only did the president win the debate over his bill, but he also rebutted the Republican argument over tax cuts versus spending, according to Gallup's Feb. 9 poll. By 50 percent to 42 percent, most Americans believe that government spending will do more to spur economic growth than tax cuts -- a stunning repudiation of conservative ideology. Although Republicans tend to prefer tax cuts by wide margins, Democrats remain convinced that spending works better and, ominously for the right, so do independents by a margin of 50 percent to 36 percent.
The Republicans slapped themselves on the back for denying the president a single vote in the House of Representatives, but the basic fact is that they could not come close to sustaining a Senate filibuster against this bill. Underlying that reality is the emptiness of their fiscal rhetoric and the paucity of their ideas. Out in major states such as Florida and California, their own G.O.P. governors have spoken out in favor of the stimulus because the party has no program beyond tax cuts for the wealthy.
So the approval ratings of the Republican Party and the Congressional minority declined during this struggle, while the ratings of the Democrats and the Congressional leadership improved, despite their uneven performance. Those numbers should bolster the determination of the president and his party to push ahead -- and to push back when they meet obstruction, as they inevitably will.
© Creators Syndicate
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Albion Monitor February
20, 2009 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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