When they manage to unify the entire House Republican caucus with David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, you know the Democrats have seriously botched something up. And boy, they really have. The more you look at the stimulus bill the clearer it becomes that it is the Congressional Democrats, not the opponents of this bill, who have failed to see that we are in a genuine and exceptional crisis. They’re working to use the moment as an opportunity to advance the same agenda they haven’t been able to move (with good reason) for a decade and more, and in the process are showing that agenda to be what we always knew it was: a massively wasteful, reckless, profligate, slovenly, higgledy-piggledy mess of interest group troughs and technocratic fantasies devoid of any economic thinking or sense of proportion.
In a way, the present crisis really does present an opportunity for the Democrats, as several of their leaders have said. But it’s an opportunity to show they are not the caricature their political opponents seek to draw: that they can govern responsibly and rise to a great national challenge. If they show that, given the failures and losses of the Republicans in recent years, they might really cement a durable majority. Instead, they have begun to show that they are exactly the caricature, and worse. The Democrats on the Hill have somehow managed to begin the age of Obama by putting forward their ugliest side first and in a big way. It can’t be what Obama wanted, and it sure isn’t what the country needs. But it looks like it’s what we are going to get. The Democrats will probably pay some political price for the way they have begun things: a price in reduced public openness to their further moves (like their health care reform), and in a reenergized opposition. But the biggest price will be the price we all pay for the wretched excess of this soon-to-be law and others to follow.
The challenge for conservatives is not just to oppose this—that’s important but it’s the easy part—but to offer another way over the coming months and years that is plainly more responsible and sensible. It can only be offered in speech; Republicans have little real power in Washington now. But if it is well conceived and ably offered, it could both help to curb the worst excesses of what the Democrats seem to have in mind, and help to reconnect conservatives with the problems of the day, not just in this crisis but beyond. It remains to be seen if we’re up to it.