Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Obama's Fortnight

We've had a new president just over two weeks now, which is apparently how long it takes for Maureen Down to write a snippy column (no link, screw her). I really can't stand her, never have -- to steal from The Family Guy, she insists on herself.

The first order of business was a bunch of executive orders. Obviously I was for pretty much all of them (closing Gitmo, etc.) and I'm glad he acted quickly on these matters. Long-term, though, I really hope Obama realizes that executive orders are a poor substitute for going through the legislature, as having executive orders made and then overturned and then made again with every change of president is not conducive to the general welfare.

The major legislative battle is the stimulus package, which (kinda) is tied to the bailout, at least in terms of "stuff on the mind of the American public." If it has any teeth to it, I'm pleased with Obama's proclamation today limiting executive pay for banks that receive federal funds, but already some are carping that there are too many loopholes. We'll see. I'm all for measures such as this, and wouldn't mind seeing them harsher, because we cannot as a society be in the business of privatizing gains while socializing loss. And you can already see some statements from the right and various financial types, whining about how they'll lose talented people, etc. etc. but if they were that talented, would they have needed a giant bailout?

The stimulus package, i.e. the actual bill that is going through our actual Congress, well, I'm lukewarm on it. From either a governance or a politics perspective, I'm not really sure what Obama is doing in terms of recruiting bipartisan support. I mean, in general, I'm all for that, but bipartisanship should not be the primary goal -- an effective bill should be. I just worry that, in order to get a few Republicans to vote for it, the bill will end up having the wrong priorities (too many tax cuts and highway spending) and not work, in which case Obama/Democrats get all the blame come 2010. As Krugman pointed out the other day:

You see, this isn’t a brainstorming session — it’s a collision of fundamentally incompatible world views. If one thing is clear from the stimulus debate, it’s that the two parties have utterly different economic doctrines. Democrats believe in something more or less like standard textbook macroeconomics; Republicans believe in a doctrine under which tax cuts are the universal elixir, and government spending is almost always bad.

So here's a case where I'd like to see Obama & Harry Reid roll up his sleeves and dare the Republicans to fillibuster a good stimulus. But remember the campaign itself -- Obama is not the sort of guy who responds quickly or fights back or what have you -- he is calm, patient, and lets things play out. We're seeing that in his handling of the stimulus so far, but it will be interesting to see if does come out swinging at some point.