The New Republic | The media gave Obama’s Porkulus a bad rap

But the book also offers a bracing reminder to those of us in the Washington press corps that the first year of the stimulus was not exactly our finest moment. To put it simply, the stimulus turned many otherwise sensible reporters into gotcha hounds. After all, there were billions and billions of dollars to be spent! That meant waste! And corruption! Except, as it turned out, there were awfully few great gotcha gets—a questionable scientific study here, a swimming pool there (imagine: spending public money on an inner-city swimming pool!) This was a credit to the administration, which put out the word early on that anyone spending ARRA money on frivolous things or otherwise wasting the dough would feel the wrath of Joe Biden, the program’s overseer. But it seems quite possible in hindsight that the administration, fearing a gotcha-happy press, erred too much in the direction of caution—and that some of the money trickled out too slowly as bureaucrats on down through the state and local level peered at penny under green eye-shades before spending it. (This caution could also be traced to the fundamental tension inherent in the program, between the administration’s desire to jolt the economy and to use the spending to lay the groundwork for long-term advancements in energy, education, and other areas, which called for more careful implementation.)  I discerned the risk of undue caution two months into the program, and penned a Washington Post piece making the only partly-facetious  “case for waste”—after all, I argued, this was a stimulus, and the money was supposed to be spent. If anyone pocketed money illegally, sure, prosecute them, but even if they went out and bought themselves a Harley, it was still economic stimulus. To the extent that I monitored the program in the months following, it was to try to assess whether the money was actually meeting its prime objective—being spent.

 

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