Here's the truth -- the simple truth: We are facing an economic calamity, and nobody really knows for sure what to do about it.
Heaven knows what do, but Harvard surely doesn't.
Republicans don't know. Democrats don't know. President Obama doesn't know for sure what to do to avert economic collapse. Hemorrhaging job losses and devaluations of everyone's home, portfolios and pension plans will continue to occur if private investors cannot trust anyone but the government with their money.
Let's admit it: This whole stimulus thing is just a guess -- the best guess our best and brightest can come up with. Use government to force consumer spending that will prevent a severe contraction and restore investor confidence and a normally functioning economy. Well, it's a theory; it's a shot.
Privately, the best and the brightest admit that if it works, this stimulus strategy will likely cause hyperinflation down the road. Running $2 trillion to $3 trillion deficits annually will do that. But hyperinflation, they whisper, is better than the alternative: another Great Depression.
So we have to do something. Unless confidence is restored, eventually, even the U.S. government (which produces no wealth but depends on the private economy for its spending) will run out of money, and investors will stop funding our deficits by buying U.S. Treasury bills.
Our modern sophisticated economy runs on trust. So does our political system.
In times of crisis, Americans rally behind our president. The latest Gallup Poll shows that 64 percent of Americans say they approve of the job President Obama is doing, far more than voted for him.
Keeping the trust of the American people in the difficult times ahead will be critical to President Obama and to our nation. The presidency consists mostly of words. As President Bush found, once you lose the trust of the American people, you're finished as an effective leader, because nothing you say matters.
Here's the best advice I can give this president, for whom I did not vote but who is my president now: Waste this crisis.
Do not misuse it. Do not spin it. Do not give off even the faintest whiff of appearing to use this economic crisis to gain votes for some other end, any other end, no matter how worthy that end seems to you and to your advisers.
The House Democrats' stimulus package is a disaster because it is a lie. How can a bill that spends most of the money in 2010 and many years beyond be a stimulus package for an economy collapsing now? The Senate version is only marginally better -- it promises to spend about three-fourths of the money it borrows from the American people by October 2010. But this is still an unacceptable gap between the alleged purpose and the reality.
Hidden in both bills are very large paybacks to political interest groups -- another clear disaster.
"I see multiple motivations in this bill, based on the language," Brett Glass, founder of Lariat.net, an Internet service provider in Wyoming, told The New York Times. "I do see a motivation to stimulate the economy. I think that's a good thing. I also see a motivation to hand out money to certain large corporations that are very good at lobbying." And Glass is speaking only of the $9 billion to expand rural Internet access -- sometime around 2013.
If this is a stimulus package, be rigorous. Keep in the stimulus bill all the spending on construction and other reasonable projects that can be spent by the government in 2009. Take the remaining money and give a check to every man, woman and child in the form of a debit card that can be spent anywhere a consumer chooses between now and Dec. 31, 2009.
Make your actions match your words, President Obama, so we can trust you.
Waste this crisis, Mr. President. Please.