Jonah Goldberg

But Obama went a different way (unlike Bush, who started his presidency with the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act). He outsourced the entire $787 billion stimulus (now estimated to cost $862 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office), to House and Senate Democrats, who had a "40-year wish list" -- in the words of The Wall Street Journal -- and there were no Republican ideas in it. As Pelosi said at the time, "We won the election. We wrote the bill." Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told me (as he headed to the GOP's retreat in Baltimore last weekend) it was clear from the outset that Democrats "made a decision from the get-go. Freeze out Republicans."

Democrats contend that Republicans refused to work with them on the stimulus but that they incorporated "Republican ideas" in the form of "tax cuts." The facts don't support this. Pelosi introduced the stimulus bill the night before Obama even met with Republicans to solicit their ideas. When the GOP presented Obama a list of proposals, they never left the paper they were printed on. Obama embraced the Democratic bill, which had no Republican input.

Nor did it have "Republican ideas" in it. The bulk of the "tax cuts" -- touted by Obama in the State of the Union last week -- were actually micromanaging, Keynesian "rebates," or what Ryan calls "spending through the tax code." Regardless, if you want hot dogs on the menu and the cook serves tofurkey soydogs, it's really not right to say the chef incorporated your ideas.

Wrong or not, the Republicans were sufficiently appalled by both the substance and the process of the stimulus that they united against it, as did the public. The pork, fake ZIP codes and spending on items never intended to stimulate the economy fueled the migration of independents from Obama and set the tone for his first year: Bipartisanship was out; phony partisan spin was in. As a result, the GOP learned that opposing Obama was not a losing proposition, but potentially a path back to power. Obviously, Obama would be in better shape if the Republicans hadn't learned that lesson so early.

A year ago, the GOP was more irritant than opposition. Now it is a major force, completely outside his control.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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