Elections have consequences; so does bad legislation

In his inauguration speech, President Obama said, “the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.” He even suggested that these arguments should be set aside as “childish things.”

However, today Obama reportedly reacted to Republican criticism of his stimulus package during a meeting with congressional leaders by acknowledging that there are philosophical differences between the parties on this issue and then reminding the assembled Republicans, “I won.”

It’s tempting to suggest that, by invoking his victory to trump substantive criticism of his position on the stimulus package, Obama was being childish. In my view, though, Obama was childish on Tuesday and mature today. On inauguration day, he arrogantly dismissed as inapplicable the important philosophical differences that have long divided liberals and conservatives. Today, he acknowledged the reality of one of these core differences — how the government should spend money — and noted, correctly, that elections have consequences.

But passing bad legislation also has consequences, not just for the country but also for the party responsibile for the legislation. To the extent that Obama blows off their concerns, Republicans must make sure that they have no responsibility for the stimulus legislation.

The politics here are not difficult to calculate. If the stimulus package is seen as a success, the Democrats will be the winners regardless of whether the Republicans “buy in.” If the package is seen as a failure, the Democrats will be the losers regardless of the position Republicans took.

But if the package is seen as a corrupt failure — one loaded up with gifts for special interests that had little or no connection with promoting economic recovery — then it will generate fury at anyone who supported it.

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