The Stimulus Worked. So What? Who Cares?

Not to get all Joy Behar on everyone, but the way the media covers the "battle" over whether the economic stimulus package worked is unsound. The stimulus packaged did what it was originally intended to do: it injected hundreds of billions of dollars worth of demand into an economy that was teetering on the brink of collapse. It did so slowly by our modern newscycle standards but incredibly rapidly by the standards of Washington. Moving so quickly, it acquired an inevitable trail of flotsam and jetsam; some waste here, some seeming boondoggles there.

By and large, though, and to a remarkable degree, the money went where it was intended to go. Unlike TARP, it didn't go to Wall Street. No bailouts here. Main Street got funding.

It is also absolutely the case that the stimulus is not terribly popular, and I don't particularly sympathize with Democrats who think this is unfair. Democrats oversold the stimulus as a panacea -- some did, anyway -- and they underestimated how precarious the economy was, which means that the base point for expectations should have been set much lower than it was. People are focused on the debt and the deficit because no Democrat is willing to make the case that deficit spending would lift the country out of an economic recession. In the space created by the lack of an intellectually honest affirmative case, the overselling of the original point and the party's general, perpetual message confusion, the stimulus became .. not so popular. Granted, if you asked people whether they like their particular project -- be it a roadway or a community center -- and you asked Republican politicians to disown projects whose ribbons they cut -- you'll get different and confusing answers.

Consider the analogy: Republicans give President Bush and Vice President Cheney for preventing major post 9/11 terror attacks but don't give Democrats credit for preventing a prolonged recession.  There are some problems with this analogy -- one being that the recession Democrats inherited was unusually harmful and pre-recession employment will take its time returning.

Reporters shouldn't cover this question as if the effectiveness of the stimulus is the issue. It's just not.