Obama, Lingle On Same Page
Wednesday - December 24, 2008
Initial estimates of President-elect Barack Obama’s yet-to-be announced economic stimulus package put the figure at $300 billion. As unemployment numbers have risen over the last few weeks, so too have the number of dollars in the package: to somewhere between $500 and $700 billion. Most recently, reports of a $1 trillion stimulus have circulated.
Obama wants the money spent on bridges, roads, alternative energy development - what he calls the nation’s long-neglected infrastructure.
Closer to home, Gov. Linda Lingle has unveiled a $1.86 billion stimulus package of her own. She wants to improve state highways, build new schools, renovate a host of state buildings, and repair public housing units.
In announcing the plan, Lingle said that the stimulus was necessary because “no one is coming here to rescue us. It is up to us.”
Obviously, sometime after Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, there will be in the persons of Senate Appropriations Chair Dan Inouye and Hawaii-born President Barack Obama more than one attempting to come to the Islands’ economic rescue.
But Democrat Obama and Republican Lingle sing the same tune, the lyrics of which, in the governor’s words, are “It can’t be business as usual. That won’t work in these times.”
The first American president to learn that economic lesson was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From 1928 to 1932, Roosevelt served as governor of New York. There he watched the Wall Street crash of 1929 and Republican Herbert Hoover’s fumbling attempts to deal with it. At first, Hoover pretended that “business as usual” would work. By the time he acknowledged that government must act, close to a quarter of the United States’labor force was out of work. Homelessness and hunger swept the land, farm and home foreclosures mounted, and the country’s banking structure teetered.
In New York, Roosevelt fought the Depression with the limited tools of state government. In 1932 he won the Democratic nomination for president. That fall he defeated Hoover for the presidency. As president, Roosevelt launched the New Deal. In his first 100 days in office he pushed through the granddaddy of all stimulus packages: New Deal legislation that built dams, roads, bridges, post offices - virtually anything that would produce a job. The federal government became the employer of last resort.
Republicans and business apologists screamed. They called Roosevelt - a child of the Hudson River New York plutocracy - a communist, a socialist, “a traitor to his class.”
At the ballot box, the American people screamed their approval. In 1936 FDR carried every state in the union save Maine and Vermont. In 1940 he became the first and only president to be elected to a third presidential term; in 1944, he won a fourth.
Did Roosevelt’s New Deal conquer the Depression? No. It required the even more massive expenditures required of World War II and a jobs program that put 14 million American men and women on the federal payroll - as members of the United States Armed Services.
The conservative counter-revolution of the last 45 years has questioned the premises of the New Deal and its progeny, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Conservative economists often argue that it would have been better to let the “business cycle run its course” during the Great Depression - that ultimately the economy would right itself and all would be well. Those on the political right make that argument in the current crisis. They would bail-out the banks but leave the automakers and workers to bankruptcy. They would “let the business cycle run its course” - whatever the human cost might be.
Gov. and President Franklin Roosevelt knew better.
So too do President-elect Obama and Gov. Lingle.
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