By Kathy Kemper – 02/14/09 06:32 AM ET
Barack Obama’s on fire right now. His approval rating stands at 69 percent and he has just won his first major battle, getting a whopper of a stimulus package passed by Congress.
A lot of the plan’s supporters say that it doesn’t go far enough and criticize him for compromising in a time of economic crisis. It’s true that Obama had envisioned a larger stimulus package, but $789 billion is nothing to sneeze at. Second, Obama was smart to ignore those who said that he should’ve rammed his original proposal down Congress’s throat. Having handed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a resounding defeat in the election, he would’ve come across as arrogant and hypocritical — in light of all his post-partisan rhetoric — if he’d followed that advice.
What Obama has done is set the tone for bipartisanship going forward. He didn’t do everything right with the stimulus bill. There were times when he made it seem as though those who had legitimate objections to it were opposing assistance to the American people or were ignorant of basic economics. The reality is that even many smart people (e.g., Larry Summers) didn’t understand the bill. And there were times when you could tell he was losing his cool. At one point when he was trying to rally public support, he said, “What do you think a stimulus is? It’s spending. That’s the whole point!”
On the whole, though, Obama did a great job. He reached out to Republicans, explained the stimulus in simple (not condescending) terms and came across as proactive and solutions-oriented. He looks like he’s trying to revive Reagan’s legacy of civility, and if so, two thumbs up for him. Now we’ll have to see whether Obama can sustain his patience — the stimulus is but the first of many daunting challenges he’s going to face.