President Obama's stimulus package passed, and the Republicans have decided to throw their lot in with defeat, despair, and desperation. They've compared the stimpak to the New Deal, which they've pronounced a failure. (They've forgotten that their hero, Ronald Reagan, was always associated with winning, optimism and hope.)
But let's take a look at a more recent comparison and see how wrong they were on that, too:
Republicans have seen to it that Obama has complete ownership of the economic rescue. By withholding nearly all their votes, they are betting that it will fail, just as they did in 1993 when the newly elected Bill Clinton pushed his first budget and tax package through Congress without a single Republican vote.
Back then, Newt Gingrich predicted that the Democratic plan would lead to "a job-killing recession," and Dick Armey, his lieutenant, called it "a recipe for disaster."
Even if they had been right, they took the risk of seeming to be betting against something most voters hoped would succeed. But they were wrong -- the economy soared under Clinton.
Sixteen years later, today's Republicans seem to have forgotten that experience.
From the outset, the Republicans in Washington pored over the bill to find trivial issues to make hay with. They found some small funding for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases prevention; they jumped up and down about renovating the national mall; they went nuts over a proposal - wait for it - to make some government buildings more energy-efficient; they acted as if green research and federal funds for new school building were the equivalent of funding terrorism. And this after eight years in which they managed to turn a surplus into a trillion-dollar deficit and added a cool $32 trillion to the debt the next generation will have to pay for. Every now and again their chutzpah and narcissism take one’s breath away. But it’s all they seem to know.
The stimulus opponents, egged on by all the media murmurings about Obama “losing control,” also thought they had a sure thing. Their TV advantage added to their complacency. As the liberal blog ThinkProgress reported, G.O.P. members of Congress wildly outnumbered Democrats as guests on all cable news networks, not just Fox News, in the three days of intense debate about the House stimulus bill. They started pounding in their slogans relentlessly. The bill was not a stimulus package but an orgy of pork spending. The ensuing deficit would amount to “generational theft.” F.D.R.’s New Deal had been an abject failure.
This barrage did shave a few points off the stimulus’s popularity in polls, but its approval rating still remained above 50 percent in all (Gallup, CNN, Pew, CBS) but one of them (Rasmussen, the sole poll the G.O.P. cites). Perhaps the stimulus held its own because the public, in defiance of Washington’s condescending assumption, was smart enough to figure out that the government can’t create jobs without spending and that Bush-era Republicans have no moral authority to lecture about deficits. Some Americans may even have ancestors saved from penury by the New Deal.