The Plank

Early Look At Obama's Speech: Government Is Good

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Some of Barack Obama's recent comments have made progressive writers, myself included, a little nervous. Yesterday's suggestions that he intended to reform entitlements--i.e., Medicare and Social Security--only heightened that anxiety (although one adviser assured me Obama had "no secret plan" to gut Social Security).

But it's important to put everything in context, which is why Obama's economic today may prove very important. The point of the speech is to introduce, formally, the economic stimulus package he and his advisors have been constructing. Note this key passage, circulated this morning among other excerpts from the prepared remarks:

There is no doubt that the cost of this plan will be considerable.  It will certainly add to the budget deficit in the short-term.  But equally certain are the consequences of doing too little or nothing at all, for that will lead to an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy.  It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.  Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy – where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.

In case the message isn't clear, check out the way ABC's Note decided to bill the speech in this morning's e-mail alert:

Government Good -- Obama Argues that Government is the Answer 

It sounds like Obama is saying what every good liberal would want him to say. And it's a reminder that, for all of the recent discussion over including some tax cuts in the recovery package, the primary issue in this debate remains the overall size of the stimulus.

Obama, to his credit, has bid the price up to nearly $800 billion--and suggested he'd go higher if Congress could find good ways to spend the money. (Of course, as Paul Krugman has been warning, even that might not be enough to do the job.) He's also prepared the public for the likelihood that, for the next year or two, deficits may reach record heights.

All of this is sure to earn Obama some grief from the right--which is why, perhaps, he's gone out of way to make rhetorical nods in their direction over the past two weeks. Naturally, I think Obama is right substantively, but that's another discussion. (You can listen to one part of my argument here.)

Update: More from Ed Kilgore here

--Jonathan Cohn 

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