Friday, February 27, 2009

Of Mice and Heirs

I read of bloggers and hear about conservative yakshow bloviators proclaiming that they are sick and tired of hearing President Obama say, "I inherited this, and I inherited that," as though Obama takes every opportunity to deflect responsibility.

The criticism of Obama's language is unwarranted. It is a fact that his administration inherited an enormous debt and the most serious economic crisis of our lives. The very vocal minority of people who still hold George W. Bush in high regard – or who oppose Obama for whatever reasons -- bristle to hear the new President remind the nation of that fact. But they seem to have propagated the "I inherited" phrase in their own minds and (dis)credited the President for saying it more than he actually has done.

Near as I can tell, Obama has used the phrase "I inherited" on only one public occasion: his press conference of February 9th. In his prepared remarks, he said, "My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression...." Note, please, that he did not say "I," but "My administration" and "we."

He said "I inherited" only once at the press conference, responding to a question. He replied in part that some opponents of his economic stimulus package complained about wasteful spending but had presided over a doubling of the national debt themselves. He asked that those who would engage in some revisionist history remember that, "I inherited the deficit that we have right now, and the economic crisis that we have right now."

In his speech to Congress, Obama used "inherited" three times:

1) ...not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't -- not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited -- I am.

2) It reflects the stark reality of what we've inherited: a trillion-dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

3) With the deficit we inherited, the cost...the cost of the crisis we face...

Note that once again, Obama reminded us that "we" inherited the debt, the deficit, the crisis, and the recession. Not him, not his administration, but the current government: executive and legislative branches included.

In his inaugural speech, Obama spoke about the crisis but never uttered "inherited." On other occasions when he has used the word he has employed the collective pronoun "we." In a speech in Elkhart, Indiana, for example, he used the same language as he did the same day at the press conference: "We inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression..."

It seems to me that Obama is trying to avoid blaming the current Congress for our woes and focus instead on the fact that the collective "we" now have the responsibility to do something about the crisis. He is trying to shift the discussion from who's to blame to who's responsible for getting it fixed – and how to go about it.

We are paying today for the errors and apathy of the past, but Obama does not lay blame; he does not proclaim that the failed policies of the Bush administration – and the misguided ideologies behind them -- have brought us to our economic knees, though they surely have. He only says that the government, as now constituted, has been stuck with this mess and needs to deal with it. Perhaps absolving the current Congress and the new executive branch of blame will help all of government to think less about history and more about the future and to work together more constructively. (I'm not holding my breath.)

Some opponents of the stimulus package repeat ad nauseum the claim that the thing includes $33 Million to save the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco. Well that's simply not true. First off, the mouse in question does not reside in the City by the bay, there being no salt marshes in the County. Calling it "Pelosi's San Francisco mouse," though, presses at least three conservative hot-buttons, so the truth be damned.

Second, the package contains no earmarks for mouse habitat protection in San Francisco, in California, or any place else. It simply provides funds to Federal agencies to restore wetlands – anywhere they decide to undertake that activity. Now it happens that the California Coastal Conservancy has requested 30 million bucks to pay for a 4,000 acre restoration project in the Bay Area, which would benefit salmon, steelhead, trout, ducks, egrets and any other thing that lives in the marshes here.

It will also improve flood protection of homes and businesses in the area, and provide about a hundred jobs, so count humans among the beneficiaries. It might be one of the many projects that ultimately receives Federal funds. But there's nothing about it in the bill.

The Frisco Rodent story is a complete fabrication, designed only to stir up opposition to the stimulus package and throw some mud at the Democratic Speaker of the House. Yet it has been repeated on Fox "news," the Washington Times, and in blog-after-conservative-blog as though it were a true and horrifying example of political maneuvering and government waste.

Once these stories of mice and men-who-inherit-stuff get started, there's no stopping them. Believers believe what they want to believe.

We ought to get over our partisan bickering. It surely doesn't help matters to pick at -- and disingenuously misquote and misinterpret -- the President's words and intent. To misconstrue the good works that are included in the stimulus package is downright dishonest. We ought to stop looking for faults in others and making them up if they don't exist. (I'm not holding my breath about that, either.)

By the way, if you can find a transcript of President Obama saying "I inherited..." any other time than during his February 9th press conference, do let me know.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This Just In...

A headline today, from the Associated Press:

"Study of fossils shows prehistoric fish had sex"

No, I did not participate in the study.