Paul Greenberg

The price of this new president's bailout plan for the whole American economy keeps changing (what's a few hundred billion between friends?) but the high-pressure sales job doesn't.

In the greatest economic challenge of the last century and maybe in American history, in the midst of a challenge similar to today's but on a far greater scale and with far fewer means available to meet it, Franklin D. Roosevelt told the American people that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. This president tells us to be afraid, to be very afraid, because the only alternative to his spending plans is "a catastrophe."

The size and variety of all the spending programs in this bill would make a drunken sailor look like a fiscal conservative. But the president's message is simple: Sign on the dotted line, and now, or All Is Lost.

Barack Obama brings to mind the used car salesman who warns that, if we dare step off the lot, if we don't ACT NOW to grab this souped-up Super Eight with all the trimmings, catastrophe will strike.

Good judgments are seldom hasty judgments, but now the American people are being told to accept this vast, pork-layered "stimulus" bill now. Yet the voice of experience within us all warns: Spend in haste, repent at leisure.

There may be times when action -- and action now -- is needed, whatever the cost, as in war or when the whole international banking system was coming unraveled, as it was last September. But look at some of the boondoggles suggested as this bill took shape: a new fitness center in Albuquerque; a great big parking garage at the Orange Bowl in Miami; still another music hall of fame, this one in Florissant, Mo. Not to mention a Minor League Baseball Hall of Fame at Durham, N.C. (Go, Durham Bulls!)

Pick your own favorite slice of pork in this smorgasbord of spending. This "stimulus" package was larded with so many bridges to nowhere or the equivalent thereof that it would make the old, secretive system of earmarking congressional budgets look comparatively open and deliberate. To paraphrase the late great governor of Arkansas and natural poet Frank White, this bill opens a whole box of Pandoras.

A major part of this gargantuan spending package seems devoted to make-work projects, politically correct causes, and even programs that may be worthwhile in themselves but have no discernible connection with the kind of economic stimulus the country could use right now. Such as smoking-cessation, "comparative effectiveness research" on the cost of health care, digital television conversion, sex hygiene, models of possible global warming patterns. ... Everybody and anybody with a pet panacea seems to have inserted it into what was supposed to be a plan to revive the economy.

One can understand the tax reductions in this bill; there are few better ways to rev up an economy than to let up on the brakes that taxes represent.

And the need to repair our highways, bridges, tunnels and such is evident to anybody who's ever had to endure one of the country's washboard interstates or crater-filled two-lanes. But the shortage of inspectors, accountants and watchdogs in general almost assures waste and, maybe worse, ineffectiveness when it comes to the economic payoff.

At least the New Deal presented its spending programs one by one; this administration has thrown them all into a giant juicer and spit out this $800-billion to $900-billion gin fizz. Downing it in a single gulp could result in one heckuva hangover the next morning. Or maybe throughout the next decade.

Yet we're told the country must swallow this thing whole and swallow it now or Doom Awaits. The first reaction of the careful consumer and taxpayer to this kind of salesmanship should be: Slo-o-w Down. Let's think about this. Before we mortgage still more of the next generation's future. There's an awful lot of waste in this dumpster of a bill.

It's not the size of this spending bill that most concerns some of us -- it may actually be too small considering how much it'll take to re-inflate this economy, which at the moment is running on four flats -- but whether it is less an economic stimulus than a grab-bag of goodies for the country's most well-connected and better organized pressure groups.

It does not assure when the insufferable Barney Frank, U.S. reprehensible from Massachusetts, plays the fear card: "To get any Republicans at all" on board for this bill, he complained, "you had to adopt a cut that's going to mean policemen and firemen are going to be laid off."

This is the oldest scare tactic in the book, and it is not made any more convincing or honorable for being pushed by the patron saint of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac boondoggles, whose easy-money, politically correct policies were largely responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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