Sunday, February 28, 2010

Exceptionally Selective Memory


Because it is ultimately an emotional matter, it is hard to talk about nationalism in a dispassionate manner. What we’re dealing with, when you get down to it, is love. Even the most Spock-like among us know that love and reason don’t always work in the same direction.

When I teach the subject of nationalism in Western Civilization, I give my students a piece called “The Discourse on the Love of Country” written in 1789 by Richard Price. As a child of the Enlightenment, Price takes a decidedly rational approach to the subject: “The love of our country has in all times been a subject of warm commendations; and it is certainly a noble passion; but, like all other passions, it requires regulation and direction.” Love of country is a “duty,” he argues, but it “does not imply any conviction of the superior value of [one’s own country] to other countries.”

Price is not na├»ve: he recognizes that, as he puts it, “[w]e are too apt to confine wisdom and virtue within the circle of our own acquaintance and party. Our friends, our country, and in short everything related to us, we are disposed to overvalue.” That is entirely natural, just as love of one’s family is. However, he argues, a “wise man will guard himself against this delusion.” Sadly, the history of the last 200 years has repeatedly demonstrated that most peoples in most nations have lacked such wisdom.

In the U.S., that delusion has most often taken the form of what is called “American exceptionalism.” This concept is at the core of a piece in the National Review this week by Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru. As they put it, “Our country has always been exceptional. It is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth.”

The New Republic has a nice deconstruction of the argument by Lowry and Ponnuru, showing that what they are really arguing is that “America is exceptional because the nation’s creed is the ideology of the modern conservative movement.” What I’d like to explore is how incredibly selective their depiction of American history is.

Lowry and Ponnuru target what they, with only slightly veiled contempt, refer to as “the academy.” What they really mean is, well, people like me—i.e., trained historians who actually know their nation’s history in its true fullness, not the whitewashed, jingoistic version they prefer. These academics, they say, have created “a perverse version of American exceptionalism ... of criminality, conquest, and oppression.”

They have a point—quite a small one, but a point. It is, of course, possible to find some examples that resemble this caricature they present. But as any student of history knows, this is the natural progression of historical inquiry. Every dominant interpretation of history inevitably produces such a reaction: a revisionist interpretation that takes a contrary, often polar opposite view. What they fail to appreciate is that this “perversion” they decry is the predictable response to a previous, equally unrealistic interpretation of history: precisely the American exceptionalist theory they champion. A truly balanced view of history takes into consideration both a nation’s strengths and its flaws, its triumphs and its tragedies. That is not at all what Lowry and Ponnuru do.

In their one nod to reasonableness, they note: “None of this is to say, of course, that America is perfect. No nation can be.” Yet one searches their article in vain for any evidence of this imperfection (at least prior to the New Deal and, of course, the Obama administration). Most striking is the utter absence of any mention of slavery—this in an essay of over 5,000 words that purports to give an accurate evaluation of American history.

No doubt they would argue that to point this out is itself evidence of the way the academy seeks “to trash our Founding.” But pointing out indisputable historical fact is not to “trash” American history: it is merely an attempt to present the totality of that history rather than a selective fragment. If anyone were to argue that slavery is the only thing one needs to know about the U.S., they might have a point. But this, of course, is a straw man. No one in American political life (and no decent historian) does that. Yet plenty of people in politics take the equally distorted position that Lowry and Ponnuru advocate--it is practically an unquestionable article of faith in the Republican Party.

In their twisted view of reality, the only true interpretation of history is theirs, one in which America is not only exceptional, but utterly superior to all others in every way and essentially without any serious flaw, and therefore with nothing to learn from other nations—all of whom should blindly follow America’s lead. To grapple with historical facts such as slavery and segregation is unacceptable to them. To imply that America is anything but, as Sean Hannity regularly insists, "the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the earth" is to lack patriotism.

Theirs is basically the most infantile kind of nationalism. They are like little children who never move past the view that their parents are perfect, god-like arbiters of all that is good. We are all like that when we are very young. But as we mature, we come to see our parents as they are: flawed but good people, who love us and do their best. We love them without having to hold onto unrealistic illusions, loving them even more as we ourselves grapple with life's complexities and come to understand the difficulties they faced. It is a mature love, grounded in realities, not in idealized fantasies.

Cicero said: "To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child." Lowry and Ponnuru and the political vision they represent would have us forever remain in child-like ignorance of the entirety of American history. That might serve their short-term political agenda, but it would make us all easily manipulated political toddlers. Lowry and Ponnuru simplistically and ignorantly idealize the Founders, but I prefer what those Founders truly wanted: an informed citizenry.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tortured Defense


Andrew Sullivan dissects former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen's disreputable attempt to square his support for torture with Catholic moral teaching better than I could ever dream of doing. While reading it, however, something nagged at me: this sounds familiar. I couldn't put my finger on it until reading
Mark Shea's post on the same subject, when he said that Dick Cheney is "pressing hard to defend the use of torture as a positive good." That was it--"positive good"--the same phrase that defenders of slavery used in the decades before the Civil War.

There are at least two distinct eras in the American defense of slavery. In the age of the founders, slavery was largely defended as a "necessary evil." Jefferson in 1820 famously wrote that slavery is like having "a wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let go." But he did not seek to defend slavery on any other than practical grounds: "Justice is on one scale, and self-preservation in the other." In general, the attitude was that if slavery did not exist, they would not now choose to adopt it, but given its existence, the price of its destruction was too high.

By the 1830s, with slavery under attack by abolitionists as an inherent moral evil, the defenders of slavery took on a new tact: the positive good argument. It was impossible to defend slavery from the moral arguments of its critics while admitting it was an evil. That, they believed, would doom slavery. Instead it must be defended as a good thing.

The foremost proponent of the "positive good" theory was John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. In a speech to the Senate in 1837, Calhoun forthrightly stated that he did not believe slavery to be "an evil--far otherwise, I hold it to be a good.... a positive good." By that, Calhoun explicitly meant it was good for the slave. Under slavery, he said "so much is left to the share of the laborer and so little extracted from him."

The defense of torture since 9/11 has undergone a similar evolution. Back in 2003, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz argued that torture could be justified in extreme cases--the so-called "ticking time bomb" scenario. But in such situations he called for "a torture warrant, which puts a heavy burden on the government to demonstrate by factual evidence the necessity to administer this horrible, horrible technique of torture." Under certain extreme circumstances, Dershowitz argued, torture can be a necessary evil that may prevent something worse. Self-preservation requires it.

Seven years later, people like Marc Thiessen are, as Calhoun did with slavery, taking it a step further: torture is good for the prisoner being tortured. He asserts that Abu Zubaydah, who was subjected to waterboarding over 80 times, "thanked his interrogators for waterboarding him" and told them: "you must do this for all the brothers." This, Thiessen claims, is because the jihadist mentality is that, having resisted until "he has reached his limit," someone subjected to torture is released from the "moral burden" of continued resistance and can talk without shame. In other words, we're doing the jihadists a favor by torturing them. It is good for them. (It is worth noting that by tacitly admitting that waterboarding pushes people to their "limit," Thiessen by implication admits it is in fact torture.)

This attempt to portray torture as anything but an intrinsic evil is uncannily like Calhoun's defense of slavery. And like that earlier effort, future generations will see it for what it is: morally bankrupt.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Russia of the 21st Century?


At Wofford, students are required to take at least one semester of Western Civilization as part of their core curriculum requirement, which means that everyone in the department (even an American historian!) teaches it. As a result, I often teach the course from 1815 to the present, and in the time-honored (or is it time-worn?) tradition, the first big topic we tackle is the industrial revolution.

It can be a less than exciting topic, but it is an unusually important one, and I try to drive home how significant it was for European and world history that Britain took the early lead in industrial development. One of the statistics I use to accomplish that goal is the following: in the Britain of 1850, there were 9787 km of railroad lines--this in a state with about 81,000 square miles of territory. In that same year, the Russian empire, with over 8 million square miles of territory, had a mere 501 km of railroad lines.

So why am I talking about this? Bob Herbert had a column last week in the New York Times about how China is leaving the U.S. in the dust when it comes to clean energy development. The day before, a Times news article highlighted China's investment in high-speed rail. China today has 1,800 miles of high-speed rail lines. The U.S., with only 100,000 square miles less territory than China, has zero. As the articles notes, the "United States hopes to build its first high-speed rail line by 2014, an 84-mile route linking Tampa and Orlando, Fla."

Even that modest first step, a part of the much-maligned stimulus bill, has been denounced as wasteful government spending. It is that kind of knee-jerk, "everything-government-does-is-bad" criticism that threatens to make the U.S. the Russia of the 21st century. The Russian empire, with its sclerotic political system, limped through the rest of the 19th century with its great power status technically intact. But in 1904-05, it was humiliated in war by Japan, which had mobilized itself and developed industrially. Unless the U.S. finds a way to get beyond the political paralysis of our time that prevents significant investment in the technologies of the future, we may suffer a similar fate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The "Stimulus Did Nothing" Canard Update


The Wall Street Journal has gotten a hold of letters some leading GOP members of Congress wrote to get the money for their districts, where they clearly state that they believe it will create jobs. So much for "wasteful spending." So much for the idea that opposition to the stimulus had anything to do with political principle. They don't even believe their own rhetoric.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Obama isn't FDR


A year ago, the press was full of comparisons of President Obama to FDR. It seemed natural enough. Both men came to power in the midst of a national economic crisis, with large ambitions--not just to solve the immediate crisis but to bring about historic change.

A year later, few observers would compare Obama's first year favorably to Roosevelt's. We are deluged with stories of a presidency on the ropes, repudiated by the voters, etc. In part, this is simply a product of our news culture's obsessive, minute-by-minute microscopic analysis of what has changed politically in the last 24 hours. But there is no doubt that to some extent, the bloom is off the rose. What happened?

I would argue that the most important factor is one little appreciated a year ago. In the midst of all of the New Deal talk in early 2009, a friend asked me what I thought about the comparison. My reply was that there was one major difference. It was as if FDR took over not in early 1933, as he did, but in early 1930. At that point, the crash had occurred several months earlier, and the economy was certainly on a downward trajectory, but no one knew that what was coming would soon be known as the Great Depression.

In other words, things just weren't bad enough when Obama came into office for the comparison to be valid. No, I'm not suggesting that it would have been somehow better if things had been worse--I'm simply pointing out that, in strictly political terms, FDR had more room to maneuver than Obama did in his first year because the economy was in such a shambles in 1933 and most Americans blamed his Republican opposition for that state of affairs.

In retrospect, most historians and economists agree that the winter of 1932-33 was the absolute low point of the depression, so when FDR actually took over, there was no doubt that the country was suffering the worst economic calamity in its history. Not only that, but for three long years, the previous administration's attempts to grapple with the disaster had shown no results. The bankruptcy of Republican policies was manifest and undeniable, and as a result, Democrats would successfully run against Herbert Hoover and his political ghost for the next 20-30 years.

In that environment, FDR came into office with as close to a blank check from Congress as any president has ever had. It passed the Emergency Banking Act a mere five days after FDR's inauguration and within several hours of it being presented to Congress, with few members even knowing what was in it, much less having read it.

Roosevelt's party also had greater margins in both Houses. Democrats had a 312-117 majority in the House, 60-35 in the Senate (it would grow to 69-25 after the 1934 elections). Not only that, but both parties were more ideologically diverse then than they are today. Many of the Congressional Republicans who had survived politically were old progressives like senators William Borah of Idaho and Hiram Johnson of California, men who were in the mold of FDR's cousin Theodore and supported many of the younger Roosevelt's initiatives, regardless of the fact that they were members of the other party.

But imagine if FDR had moved into the White House in early 1930. Before it was clear that the nation was entering a severe, historic depression. Before the bankruptcy of Republican policies of the last ten years became clear. And while the depression deepened inexorably.

This is effectively the situation Obama walked into--with one major difference. In the fall of 2008, as the financial system threatened to implode, all informed observers, of all political stripes, knew effective action had to be taken, and quickly. And Obama wisely made common cause with the Bush administration in approving the now universally unpopular TARP bill.

There is no exact parallel with FDR, but the one that comes closest is illuminating. In the months between the 1932 election and the inauguration in March 1933, the banking system effectively collapsed. In that period, Hoover tried repeatedly to enlist FDR in some kind of joint action, and the president-elect resisted. His critics, with some justification, have charged FDR with putting politics ahead of the national good. But as FDR and his people saw it, in the words of biographer Ted Morgan, "Why should he risk the contamination of a discredited administration?"

In contrast, that, in effect, is what Obama did--he risked the contamination of the discredited Bush administration on TARP. He put the national interest first. His personal political interest has not been well served. By supporting TARP, and then getting Congress to enact the stimulus bill, Obama has helped prevent the panic of 2008 from turning into another great depression.

But he gets no political credit for preventing what did not happen, and arguably has prevented the public from seeing (and suffering) the full consequences of the reckless policies of the Republican president and Congress that preceded him. Instead of getting credit, he endures carping from the right that the stimulus didn't work because unemployment went up. He gets blamed by the left for an ineffectual leadership's failure to pass health care reform.

Yes, it would have been better for Obama politically to have come into office in today's equivalent of 1933. But it would not have been better for the rest of us.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Andre Bauer's Abuse of History

[Note: the post below is an expanded version of my letter to the editor published today in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.]

This past Sunday, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer published an op-ed piece in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal to respond to criticism of this now well-reported statement comparing people on government assistance to stray animals:

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that."

Bauer has been forced to back off this specific metaphor, but he clearly thinks he has a winning issue in the race for the Republican nomination for governor in his attacks on what he calls “the culture of dependency.”

Put aside the disturbing implications of Bauer’s use of this particular metaphor. Put aside even the not-very-subtle racial code language implied by its last sentence. It is his abuse of historical evidence I’d like to talk about.

In this opinion piece, Andre Bauer tries a rhetorical trick. In attacking the “culture of dependency,” Bauer ominously intones “we were warned.” He then proceeds to quote Franklin D. Roosevelt, from his 1935 State of the Union address, on the dangers of dependency: “The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole our relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of a sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America.” If even the father of modern American liberalism was against relief, Bauer indirectly suggests, then how can anyone criticize my view?

The quotation is accurate, as far as it goes. It is, however, incredibly selective—so much so that Bauer effectively creates a false impression of what FDR was really saying.

Before the section Bauer quoted, FDR proposed what would become Social Security: “the time has come for action by the National Government. I shall send to you in a few days definite recommendations … [which] will cover the broad subjects of unemployment insurance and old-age insurance, of benefits for children, for mothers, for the handicapped, for maternity care, and for other aspects of dependency and illness where a beginning can now be made.” In short, FDR had just proposed precisely the kind of social safety net Bauer decries in his op-ed.

It gets worse. FDR’s attack on relief was not in isolation. It was to set the stage for his proposal for the WPA, and his request for the largest single peacetime appropriation in American history to give people jobs. Yes, he opposed relief to the unemployed, but in the absence of relief, he proposed to use government to create jobs for them: “It is a duty dictated by every intelligent consideration of national policy to ask you [Congress] to make it possible for the United States to give employment to all of these three-and-a-half million people now on relief, pending their absorption in a rising tide of private employment.” FDR was not calling simply for an end to relief, he was calling on Congress to replace relief with work. And he was not willing to wait for private enterprise to provide those jobs. He wanted people to have the dignity of work, and wanted to mobilize government to make sure they had it.

(I’ve seen this kind of selective quotation before, but it is usually in freshmen essays, and it always results in the spilling of a lot red ink from my grading pen and an appropriately low grade. We should be able to expect better of someone who presumes to govern a state.)

FDR offered people on relief real jobs and real income instead of relief. Andre Bauer offers them nothing but self-righteous and self-satisfied homilies. He wants us to know that “as a child I chose to cut grass and rake leaves” to pay for his lunches. But what he proposed was to cut off school lunch benefits to children if their parents failed to attend parent-teacher conferences. FDR proposed helping those who found themselves in need through no fault of their own, children in particular; Bauer proposed punishing children for the failings of their parents.

FDR’s WPA provided funding for the Santee Cooper project, which put thousands of South Carolinians to work and today still provides electricity to over 130,000 South Carolinians. Bauer opposed the recent stimulus bill—though he quickly distanced himself from Gov. Sanford’s stand against accepting the money marked for South Carolina. Since the stimulus was a fact, he argued in March 2009, South Carolinians should get their share of the benefits: “people are in need and if stimulus is purchased with your dollars, the stimulus ought to be available to you. Why send the money and jobs elsewhere?” Evidently people have their characters ruined by federal money, but states don’t.

The crowning irony of his self-serving article is that in it Bauer whines that his “historical understanding” is being attacked by critics of his tone-deaf statement. But Bauer’s misuse of FDR’s words shows that he is either ignorant of history and thus deserves the attacks, or that he is willing to knowingly abuse history to advance his political career. Neither choice is very appealing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's All About Discipline


Watching the depressing spectacle of the Democrats stumbling to pass comprehensive health care reform got me wondering how the Republicans were able to pass the Medicare drug benefit in 2003 with a mere 51 Republican senators—nowhere near the 60-vote majority Democrats enjoyed up until last week. The contrast between the stories of the two bills is enlightening.

The difference isn’t ideological—both bills called for an expansion of the role of government in providing health care benefits. It isn’t a matter of fiscal conservatism—the Medicare bill was originally estimated to cost over $400 billion in its first 10 years (though after its passage that number quickly ballooned to $1.2 trillion, and there was a minor dust-up when it was revealed that the Bush administration’s own numbers during the debate estimated its cost at closer to $600 billion). If anything, the current bill is more fiscally responsible, in that it contains means to pay for it, which the Medicare bill did not. In fact, Republicans pushed to waive the normal rules in place that said any new program needed to contain a mechanism to pay for it. No, the difference is quite simple: party discipline. The Republicans have it, the Democrats don’t.

Today’s Democrats have focused, understandably so, on the problem of the Senate filibuster rule. The need to overcome a potential filibuster means that, in the face of a united Republican front in opposition to any bill, the Democrats have to get every single Democrat (plus ostensible independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders) to vote to end debate in order to pass a bill.

But that same procedural impediment faced the Republican Senate in 2003. So how did they do it? One obvious answer is that they were able to get some Democrats to break party ranks and support the bill. Ultimately, 11 Democrats voted for the bill. Had the Democrats shown the same devotion to party as today’s Republicans have, they could have killed that bill.

But there is another interesting subplot to the 2003 story. The final bill passed the Senate by a 54-44 vote. How did they manage this, if today Democrats need 60 votes to get health care reform passed? The answer once again is party discipline, but of a different kind.

There was an attempted filibuster against the 2003 bill. But the cloture vote passed, 61-39, because seven Republicans senators (Chafee, Ensign, Graham, Gregg, Lott, Nickels and Sununu) who voted against the bill voted for cloture. In other words, unlike today’s strutting prima donnas (i.e., Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson), the Republicans who opposed the Medicare bill did not try to use their votes to kill the bill if it did not conform exactly to their liking. They agreed to vote for cloture and then against the bill, ostensibly (or maybe even actually) in the name of democracy and the value of an up-or-down vote--but more likely in the name of not denying their party and its president a legislative victory. Had Lieberman and Nelson done the same, instead of holding up the bill while they continually demanded more concessions, they could have voted against the bill, but still allowed an up-or-down vote, and health care reform could have passed in the fall.

Yes, if even one Republican had been willing to break ranks, the bill could have passed (and still could). But Democrats should have known early on that, as Jim DeMint too honestly put it, Republicans wanted to hobble the entire Obama presidency by turning this issue into his “Waterloo.” Given that reality, the blame also falls on a Democratic leadership that allowed itself to be blackmailed by two senators who put their own selfish interests ahead of the party’s and the nation’s.

One final note—among the Democrats voting for this unfunded Medicare benefit in 2003 were Max Baucus, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson—all of whom worked to curtail the size and cost of the current bill, allegedly in the name of “fiscal conservatism.”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The TelePrompTer, Again




Matthew Continetti at the Weekly Standard briefly reviews Sarah Palin's speech to the Tea Party convention.

Not having seen the speech, I have no comment on it. What interests me is this statement by Continetti:

"Ignore the critics who will say Palin spent too much time looking at her notes; her off-the-cuff approach and decision not to use a TelePrompTer was clearly calculated to highlight President Obama's reliance on scripted events and canned speeches."

This unthinking, casual shot at President Obama shows how impervious his inveterate critics are to evidence. After last Friday's nearly 90 minute Q & A with the House Republicans, how is it possible for anyone to keep up this fiction that Obama needs to rely on a TelePrompTer and "scripted events and canned speeches"? He proved himself in that exchange to be perhaps the best president in an off-the-cuff give-and-take since JFK. But to his critics, it might as well have never happened.

Evidently this TelePrompTer meme is so deeply established in some circles that no amount of evidence can shake it. And that trait itself is indicative of the nature of the opposition to the president these days.


Student-Gladiators




David Brooks, as he too frequently does, takes an interesting idea and reduces it to trite banalities. Yes, there are some virtues in big time college sports. But there is a price paid, by the vast majority of the players, that makes the analogy to Roman gladiators all-too-fitting.

Teaching at a small college that manages to balance team sports with academic quality, I bristle at the way Brooks glosses over the abysmal academic record of so many big-time university sports programs. The vast majority of Wofford's athletes will never play professional sports after graduation. In that, they are much like their big-time counterparts. But unlike too many of them, Wofford grads will have had coaches who care about academics, and virtually all of the student-athletes will leave the college with a degree that will equip them for a life outside sports.

It would have been nice if Brooks, while effusing over the "common emotional experiences" of the fans, had given a thought to the student-athletes in the arena.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The "Stimulus Did Nothing" Canard





If there is one thing Republicans agree on these days, it is that the stimulus bill "did nothing." The newest Republican phenom, Scott Brown, asked to have his swearing in hastened so that he could oppose any further economic stimulus. “The last stimulus bill did not create one new job,” Brown confidently said.

This claim is absurd on the face of it.

Oh, it is easy for people like Sean Hannity to hammer away at the fact that the Obama administration claimed that the stimulus would keep the unemployment rate from reaching 8%, and last month it was 10%. Therefore, they claim, it did nothing--unemployment is higher, so no jobs were created.

On the surface, you can see the appeal of the claim. But it won't withstand even a moment's thought. Jobs being saved, or created, is not inconsistent with the unemployment rate going up. It's the equivalent of saying that the rescue efforts in Haiti have saved no lives because the death count keeps going up.


Yes, they were wrong about what the unemployment rate would be. But if that is the standard Republicans want to use, then they have some explaining to do.

Let's take the Reagan tax cuts enacted in August 1981. At that time, the unemployment rate was 7.4%. Despite the tax cut, the unemployment rate continued to rise, reaching a height of 10.8% in December 1982. It did not decline to below the August 1981 level until the fall of 1984, over three years after the passage of the bill. Would today's GOP say that this means the Reagan tax cuts did nothing, that they "did not create one new job”?

Or look at George W. Bush. In January 2001, Dick Armey predicted that passing "a pro-growth tax cut ... could help avert a recession." Despite getting the tax cut passed in June 2001, which Bush predicted would stimulate the economy, the unemployment rate rose from 4.2% in January 2001 and peaked at 6.3% in June 2003. Yet we were told repeatedly that the tax cuts worked, even though the unemployment rate continued to rise for two years after the cuts were enacted. When even ONE Republican says that this fact means the Bush tax cuts did "nothing," I'll start taking this line of attack on Obama seriously.

The unemployment rate would be higher without the stimulus. To pretend that it did "nothing" is absurd substantively because it is demonstrably false, but if the objective is to deny Obama any credit for partisan purposes, well then there is a certain twisted logic to the claim--one perfectly consistent with the scorched earth political strategy of the GOP.

One last blatant contradiction. If the stimulus package did nothing, then it would seem tax cuts are totally ineffective and produce nothing, since about $200 billion of it was tax cuts. I won't hold my breath waiting for Republicans to admit that.