Obama’s “convince America to back the economic stimulus bill” tour is turning out to be a classic argument for building infrastructure. Not national infrastructure, though he’s making that case well enough, but political infrastructure of the sort that Democrats have neglected building for the past 40 years or so, while the Republicans have building up anti-government sentiment that can be called upon any time they want to convince the public to support policy that is the equivalent of every hard-working person in this country writing a check made out to Fat Cats Incorporated. For decades, Republicans have been blanketing the nation with nonsensical propaganda about “socialism”, and trying to convince people that the best thing to do in economic hard times is the absolute worst thing for us to do, which is make the government tighten the belt while the rest of us go shopping, as Bush begged us to do after 9/11. And while a few foolhardy liberals have been out there trying like hell to remind people that the government belongs to us, and therefore helping us out is its most important duty, we haven’t really gotten enough support from mainstream Democrats, who have sacrificed a lot of rhetorical ground to stay ingratiated to voters whose brains have been fried on right wing propaganda.
Trying to reverse decades of brain-washing overnight is a task too big for even someone with Obama’s charisma and popularity. Americans are a poorly educated lot about our own history, to boot, and I worry that a lot of people think FDR’s main contribution to fighting the Depression was telling people to buck up. But add to that Clinton’s legacy as a free trade supporter and a welfare slasher, and you’ve got a situation where Americans have been hearing from both parties for a long time that the government has no business helping people out in need or regulating markets or doing anything, apparently, except starting unnecessary wars to enrich the already rich. And now that they’re backed into a corner, the Democrats have been trying to pass this one as an emergency package, which it is, but unfortunately, it’s being released into an atmosphere where people don’t even understand that basics of how government spending works and how it influences the economy. If Democrats had spend the past 40 years pushing back hard against right wing propaganda and arguing that the government’s functions are largely legitimate and dramatically improve the quality of American life—which isn’t hard to argue since we have piles upon piles of evidence (check out this slideshow) of how this works—then this stimulus bill wouldn’t be such a hard sell.
With that in mind, Obama is doing a bang-up job considering how many strikes he has against him. Going on tour is about more than just talking to people and convincing them to support the bill. It’s about dominating the news cycle while this bill gets hashed out. The more the media has to cover Obama’s speeches, the less airtime they have to fill with Republican talking heads making false comparisons and trying, like the immoral bastards they are, to exploit this recession to widen the gap between rich and poor. That’s about the best we can hope for, especially since the biggest media outlets are dominated by people who have a personal interest in maintaining outrageous economic disparities.
But let’s hope this is a lesson learned, though it probably won’t be—if you want the public to support you when you’re actually ready to move, you need to get them on your side a long time beforehand. Democrats shouldn’t wait until an economic crisis to make arguments about public spending, infrastructure, and regulation. We need to be making those arguments all the time, and explaining all the time why Republican ideas are less about liberty and more about maintaining economic injustice.