The big story on the stimulus
The day-to-day stories on the stimulus are mostly very small and very political. Republicans hypocritically attacking the bill while taking credit for the spending. Conservatives charging that some mayor in some town spent an infinitesimal fraction of the money on a project that sounds funny if you say it in an arch tone.
But the correct story is the big story. The macroeconomic story. According to private forecasters -- we're not talking Obama administration folks, but private firms that are paid by other private companies to accurately analyze the market -- the stimulus worked. "Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s Economy.com," reports David Leonhardt. "They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative."
You have to sympathize with the Obama administration: It has done more to save and create jobs than any White House in recent memory. It stabilized a financial system that was teetering on the edge of collapse, and that would have sent unemployment skyrocketing if it had fallen. The administration passed an $800 billion stimulus bill that has already created more than 1.6 million jobs and is likely to create 2.5 million by the time it ends. And still it's hammered, on the one hand, for not doing enough to create jobs, and on the other hand, for high deficits, which are a direct product of how much the administration's doing to create jobs.
But it is operating amid an economy that's much better at shedding jobs than any economy since the 1930s. Better, even, than the administration is at passing legislation to create jobs. The fact that the captain is uncommonly good at bailing out his boat does not mean he outmatches the ocean around him. Meanwhile, half the crew is blaming him for the fact of the waves and telling the passengers that they should never ride this cruise line again.
The president is judged against the state of the country, not against the counterfactual of the state of the country in his absence (and, luckily for the Republicans, not against the counterfactual of the state of the country under the minority's expressed agenda). That's all politics, and that's all how it goes. But people still need help, and the pity is that the Republicans can't see a way forward to helping them because doing so might help the other party in the midterm elections. Republicans opposed the stimulus -- which was one-third tax cuts -- as part of a gambit to leave Democrats holding the bag for an economy that was sure to be weak in 2010, even if their policies had made it stronger than it otherwise would have been. They can't abandon that strategy now.