It was good to see the president, ordinarily so cool, so accommodating, exhibiting some real fire the other night. It seems to have done some good.
With the economy in deep, deep trouble, and Americans suffering by the tens of millions, the Republicans spent much of the week doing their same-old, bad-faith Neanderthal two-step: trying their best to derail the economic stimulus package working its difficult way through Congress.
“This bill is stinking up the place,” said Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina who not only opposed the legislation but wanted to make sure that no one would mistake him for a class act.
One of the goals of the package, of course, is to begin cleaning up the holy mess that resulted from the long, dark night of G.O.P. control in Washington. President Obama went out of his way to get a substantial number of Republicans to make a genuine effort to move the economic revitalization process along, but was rebuffed, and in some cases contemptuously.
On Thursday night, he struck back, attacking Republican intransigence and its failed policies of the past. On Friday morning, with the government reporting that nearly 600,000 more jobs had been lost in January, the president went public again, stressing how irresponsible it would be to do nothing in the face of the growing crisis.
Neither the job losses nor the president’s prodding was enough to prompt much of a response from the Republicans. But by Friday evening, it appeared that a small number of G.O.P. senators, enough to assure Senate passage of a revised (and watered-down) stimulus package by a very slim margin, had come aboard.
But only a small number. Even as the report of an agreement was being circulated, Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, was bad-mouthing the package on CNN. “This bill is a disaster,” he said.
It’s been clear for years that the G.O.P. is a party without a heart. But its pointless obstructionism, its overall lack of any serious response to what is a clear national economic emergency, seems to indicate it’s also a party without a brain.
Republicans in Washington have behaved like a milling crowd standing in the way of firefighters trying to respond to a devastating blaze. The best that can be said for the party is that a few senators seem to have been able part the crowd enough to let the rescuers begin to inch forward.
President Obama addressed Republican inflexibility on Thursday night when he said at a gathering in Williamsburg, Va., “Don’t come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis.” He added that without swift action on the stimulus bill, “an economy that is already in crisis will be faced with catastrophe.”
The report of January’s enormous job losses came roughly a dozen hours later. It was the latest in a long and hideous pattern of employment woes, much of it resulting from the G.O.P.’s obsession with destructive supply-side economic voodoo.
On the front page of The Times on Friday was an article that said the number of women on the nation’s payrolls is poised to pass that of men for the first time in American history. This is not because women have been doing so well, but because men have been doing so poorly.
As I was reading the article, I thought of all the guys who used to listen to Rush Limbaugh while driving to or from work but are now tuning in from their living rooms because the benefits of the G.O.P.’s right-wing, tax-cutting ideology never trickled down to them and they are now jobless.
“Since the start of the recession,” as Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, points out, “the U.S. economy has shed more jobs than the total population of Chicago.”
The Republicans still don’t get it. Most act as if they don’t understand that in this radical economic downturn the demand for goods and services has fallen off a cliff, and that government spending is needed — and needed quickly — to replace a large portion of that lost demand.
The goal is twofold: to alleviate some of the enormous suffering (something that is easily understood if you have a heart), and to revive the battered economy (equally easy to understand by anyone with a brain).
Senator John McCain echoed many of his Republican colleagues on Friday when he indignantly asserted, “This is not a stimulus bill; it is a spending bill.”
It was an objection that had been addressed by an incredulous President Obama on Thursday night. “What do you think a stimulus is?” the president asked, his voice rising. Spending, he said — to laughter from his audience — “is the whole point.”