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Barlow Herget Commentary
Barlow Herget is a commentator and host on State Government Radio at Curtis Media. He has been a commentator on UNC public radio and an instructor in continuing education at Duke University. Herget was a Nieman Fellow ('70) at Harvard University, has worked for the Daily Press of Paragould, Ark., the Detroit Free Press, and the News & Observer of Raleigh. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times and numerous other publications. Contact him by email.
Stimulus will help stalled economy
Tuesday - 9/21/2010, 11:50am EDT
These are words that have fallen into disfavor because of relentless attacks in the political arena. It's hard, for example, to find a Democrat in the South anymore who calls himself or herself a liberal. Progressive is the preferred term.
It's also difficult to discuss the estate tax without a critic sneering that it's a death tax.
The word tax itself has long been a political pariah, so much so that some legislators today act like there's no need for taxes. Water and sewer systems and schools simply appear on their own.
And now, in this election, it's impolitic to talk about a stimulus as in Keynesian economics to jump-start the economy.
President Obama's $787 billion stimulus rated favorably with Americans in 2009, 56 percent to 42 percent disapproving. A year later, the numbers were almost reversed, 54 against, 44 in favor. Today, the disapproval percentage is certain to be larger.
One reason for the opposition, like any number of issues, is that the stimulus is associated with President Obama. He has become the lightning rod for mad, angry Tea Party and Republican voters, a majority of whom believe he is a Muslim and over 40 percent believe he wasn't born in America. Untruths both.
A second reason that the word stimulus is out of favor is because the 2009 stimulus didn't put enough people back to work. Unemployment in North Carolina remains high, 9.8 percent, and the national rate is 9.6 percent. Critics claim it didn't work. Also untrue.
The stimulus did work, and the economy has been growing but slower. Targeted stimulus legislation for automobiles and new homes also worked. Go back and look at sales figures earlier this year or just ask any car dealer or real estate broker.
There are valid arguments abput how the stimulus was applied. I believe more money should have been spent directly on jobs to repair roads, fix bridges, improve mass transit and promote renewable energy. That's not how it was administered, but it did work.
The political mood today has swung sharply against direct, deficit federal spending and toward indirect, deficit spending such as a tax cut. The results are not the same. Both produce higher deficits. Look at Presidents Ronald Reagan's and George Bush's record-setting deficits when they didn't pay the bills.
But studies have shown that tax cuts, especially those that go to the wealthiest taxpayers will not generate immediate spending. And the richest taxpayers who get the biggest cuts, those in the top 1 percent, tend to hold onto their money.
This election is about jobs and the economy, not birth certificates, mosques and the 14th Amendment. That means it's about which party is more likely to get the economy moving again.
Mr. Obama is two years into his administration, and he and the Democratic Congress used the 2009 stimulus to pull the nation out of the ditch and Wall Street's crooked carnival.
The Republicans to date show no inclination to help Mr. Obama do anything. Such a do-nothing policy is no way to stimulate the economy.