Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Multitasking

I can appreciate the fact that David Brooks is one of the few conservatives who gets the idea that our country is in bad shape, and I can even give him some props for chastising the House Republicans for their insanity of suggesting things like spending freezes and kowtowing to the sacred memory of a long-dead president’s economic philosophy that didn’t work thirty years ago. But what I can’t understand is his inability to see that if we are in a depression, you don’t just handle one emergency at a time.

If the Republicans wanted to do the country some good, they’d embrace an entirely different approach.

First, they’d take the current economic crisis more seriously than the Democrats. The Obama budget projects that the recession will be mild this year and the economy will come surging back in 2010. Democrats apparently think that dealing with the crisis is a part-time job, which leaves the afternoons free to work on long-range plans to reform education, health care, energy and a dozen smaller things. Democrats are counting on a quick recovery to help pay for these long-term projects.

No, it’s not that the Democrats are taking this crisis as an opportunity to shove through their agenda — ascribing your tactics to someone else is called “projection” — it’s that as in all things of this size and complexity, things that seem to be unrelated such as health care, energy, and the dozen other things are all connected. You fix health care and the costs of providing it go down; people are healthier and have more money, and are therefore more productive, therefore paying more taxes, which pays back the trillions of dollars spent to stimulate the economy and fix health care. Reform education, fix the buildings, pay teachers more, and that motivates more people to get into the profession, which makes the students learn better which helps the work force become more flexible and more competitive in the global market, which helps the manufacturing sector. Bail out General Motors and you don’t end up with shuttered factories that make electronic parts in Benzonia, Michigan, which keeps that small community alive. He’s right; it is a “bloomin’ emergency,” but as anyone who has ever had any training in emergency care will tell you, the first thing you do is try to keep the patient alive, but you don’t ignore the other injuries either. Unlike the most recent example of Republican presidential leadership, Mr. Obama seems to be capable of multitasking.

It’s more than a little ironic that Mr. Brooks accuses the Democrats of not taking the economic crisis more seriously. And the Republicans do? Compared to them, on whom he lavishes advice, the Democrats at least acknowledge it and are trying to do something rather than try to figure out ways to exploit it for political gain. He seems to admit as much.

If Republicans were to treat this like a genuine emergency, with initiative-grabbing approaches, they may not get their plans enacted, but voters would at least give them another look. Do I expect them to shift course in this manner? Not really.

So why bother offering them advice when he knows they won’t take it? He might as well get behind the people who are at least making an attempt to do something in the first place.