Monday, February 16, 2009

Stimulus Battle Over Despite Sniping

According to HuffPost, the battle over the stimulus package is in John Paul Jones territory. The politicians have "not yet begun to fight" as the Obama administration and the Republicans line up to fight over the impact of the stimulus legislation.

President Obama's advisers are betting that the historic legislation he will sign tomorrow will bear fruit quickly, and they plan to do everything they can to highlight evidence of it creating the jobs he has promised. That public relations effort kicks off tomorrow as a two-day swing through the West begins.

But the Republican Party has made its own bet: that the stimulus package that Democrats rushed through Congress will have been deemed a failure by the time the 2010 elections arrive, leading voters to rebuke Obama and reward the GOP with much-needed victories.

Of course, the parties will keep fighting. That's what the Republicans and the Democrats do and there's actually no way they can stop fighting with 24 hour news reporting, partisan blogs like this one, and more than 16 years of the permanent campaign under their belts.

But Obama has already won the battle. What lies ahead is only the usual sniping.

The idea that the stimulus package has to be a big success or the Dems will lose in 2010 is mistaken. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is on a long leash with the public and is given considerable benefit of the doubt. The bottom line is that a majority trusts Barack Obama as the best leader for the current economic crisis and President Obama confirmed that trust through his conduct during the battle over the stimulus legislation.

Obama needed to prove that he could "get things done." After the election, Obama and his people kept saying that they needed a $750 billion economic stimulus package.

They ended up with a $789 billion package. That's "getting things done."

Obama needed to show that he wasn't engaged in the same old partisan bickering. And that's exactly what he did. In meeting with conservative columnists, going to Capital Hill to listen with Republican lawmakers, and adjusting the package to meet Republican demands over spending on things like contraception, Obama "changed the tone." That's why 81% of voters viewed Obama as acting in a bipartisan way in a CBS poll.

The fact that Republicans did not accept the gesture was seen as their problem and that's why "disapproval" ratings for the Republican leadership are between 50% and 62%.

Most important of all, Obama needed to prove that he's a "strong leader." Here, he has the GOP Republicans to thank. By pushing so hard against the stimulus package, the Republicans teed up an opportunity for Obama to get tough with them and that's exactly what Obama did when he denounced the "same tired ideas and worn ideas" in his speech to the House Democrats.

The outcome of the stimulus battle was a clear victory for President Obama. He emerged as a "strong leader" who "gets things done" while carrying through on his promises of "reaching out to Republicans." The public had considerable confidence in Obama's leadership ability with 3/4ths of voters rating him as a strong and decisive leader back in December. In this context, Obama's performance during the stimulus battle "justified their trust."

Obama and the Democrats were already in a strong position to make further gains in 2010 and the stimulus battle showed that they could play a strong hand well. If the Republicans want to keep up, they'll have to do more than play to their shrinking base.

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