‘Shovel-ready was not as . . . uh . . . shovel-ready as we expected,” the president jibed.
He certainly seemed to be a good sport about it all. One half expected the Daily Show’s puckish Jon Stewart to chime in: “Maybe you better not quit your day job, dude!” There’s a real problem when the President of the United States feels the need to become the entertainer-in-chief, especially when the joke’s about very serious matters that have long-term consequences.
Take this line, Shovel-Ready. It became the signature phrase of none other than Barack Obama himself as he rushed through a jumbo $787 billion stimulus package in the opening days of his administration. Why must we bypass the normal, drawn-out process of committee hearings, markups, amendments, debates, and extended votes? With the economy in free fall in the days leading up to Inauguration, there was no time for that, Mr. Obama assured us. This would be like FDR’s Hundred Days. He had only to say a measure was needed to get folks back to work and Congress—especially a Congress filled with make-work, make-hay-while-the-sun-shines liberals—would get cracking.
Even some Republicans, normally the green eyeshade folks, muted their criticisms. They were surely uncomfortable with this gusher of spending. But they didn’t want to be bottom-line skunk at the liberals’ recovery picnic. Reality would not be allowed to intrude on this hurry-up bit of spending projects.
Now, when FDR summoned the nation’s energies (and its wallets) to jump-start the economy with make-work projects, it didn’t really work, either. By 1936, after four years of his “bold experimentation,” the unemployment rate was still 16%. But it had been 25% in the depths of the Great Depression, so most folks gave Roosevelt credit for trying. As Amity Shlaes has admirably demonstrated in her powerful book, The Forgotten Man, much of Roosevelt’s New Deal actually prolonged the Depression.
Still, you have to give Roosevelt credit for this much. When he looked for shovel-ready projects to fund, he actually found them. We have the Appalachian Trail, hundreds of bridges, lots of hydroelectric dams, and, of course, the Tennessee Valley Authority to show for all that spending.