THE BLOG
02/23/2009 12:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Political Posturing For Personal Gain

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers

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Tomorrow night, President Obama will deliver an address to Congress discussing the economic challenges that lay ahead. Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod told the the New York Times that Obama plans to "present a road map for 'how we get to a better day.'" "The country is looking for a clear sense of direction. This is an opportunity to talk to the nation about that," Axelrod continued. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) will offer the Republican response to Obama. As House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) explained, Jindal will argue that the Republican party is not "simply the party of 'opposition,' but the party of better solutions." As Jindal attempts to raise his national profile for a possible presidential run in 2012, his message to the nation will be hampered by the extremely transparent attempts of a number of prominent conservatives to "have their cake and eat it too" when it comes to the economic recovery policies offered by the Obama administration. Indeed, while conservatives in Congress made a show of opposing the recovery package, many are now touting its benefits. Likewise, conservative governors (Jindal included) are rejecting portions of stimulus funding to score points with the radical right at the expense of their residents. Instead of debating the possible pros and cons of the Obama administration's economic policies, commentators like CNBC's Rick Santelli are staging ill-informed "rants" on live TV and being rewarded for it. As Center for American Progress Vice President for Economic Policy explained, the recovery package is geared toward breaking "the downward spiral that is currently consuming the economy," and "the bill includes very little overall that isn't good public policy."

POSTURING IN CONGRESS: Conservatives in Congress voted en masse against the economic recovery package earlier this month. In doing so, they offered blistering -- and misleading -- critiques of the package, calling it "silly pork," a "spending spree," and at one point referring to the process as "TOTALLY ILLEGAL." House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) worked furiously to pressure moderate House Republicans to vote against the package and then released an over-the-top YouTube video touting his caucus's unanimous opposition. But increasing numbers of congressional conservatives are revealing their votes against the recovery package for what they were: political theater. A review of news reports by ThinkProgress found that at least 22 lawmakers who voted against the recovery package have begun touting its benefits to their constituents. Rep. John Mica (R-FL), for instance, "gushed" after the passage of the bill he voted against, releasing a statement that applauded Obama's "recognition that high-speed rail should be part of America's future." Similarly, Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) went on a tour of his home state to tout the very stimulus plan he railed against. In a press release, Bond boasted about an amendment he included in the bill to provide more funding for affordable housing. Just days before, however, Bond declared, "Hold onto your wallets folks because with the passage of this trillion-dollar baby the Democrats will be poised to spend as much as $3 trillion in your tax dollars."

POSTURING AT THE STATE LEVEL: On Friday, Jindal announced that he would oppose changing state law to allow Louisiana residents to qualify for expanded unemployment insurance under the recovery package. Jindal justified his decision by claiming that the expanded unemployment benefits would necessitate raising business taxes in his state. Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) said he would follow Jindal's lead, telling CNN, "We want more jobs. You don't get more jobs by putting an extra tax on creating jobs." But their objections are puzzling because by Jindal's own estimate, the expanded unemployment insurance is fully funded by the federal government for at least three years,which the states would likely be able revisit or phase out the program. Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) said that he too was considering rejecting a portion of the funds. In response, Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said, "I think people will...understand that it's political posturing and you're playing with people's lives, and that's a very, very dangerous game." New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) suggested that Jindal's posturing had less to do with tax policy and more to do with his desire to run for president in 2012. Similarly, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D-LA) said that "Jindal needs to choose whether to represent the state of Louisiana or be the spokesman for the national Republican Party." Evidence of such presidential political considerations is not well hidden by Jindal, Sanford, or Barbour. Over the weekend, all three declined to rule out a run in 2012, while Jindal in particular was preparing his response to Obama -- with the help of the RNC and House GOP.

POSTURING IN THE MEDIA:
Responding to Obama's plan to rescue bad mortgages on the floor of the Chicago stock exchange last week, CNBC correspondent and former John McCain supporter Rick Santelli declared, "The government is promoting bad behavior!" "[I]n terms of [mortgage] modifications...why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers mortgages." As the traders on the floor of the exchange began to cheer Santelli's self-described rant, Santelli declared, "This is America!" and asked, "President Obama, are you listening!?" Concluding his tirade, Santelli called for a new Boston Tea Party to protest Obama's plan. As the New York Times noted, "Once upon a time, cable channels were embarrassed by on-air outbursts or other anchor antics. Now, some are glad to post the video clips on the Internet as quickly as possible to maximize publicity and Web traffic." Indeed, CNBC "swiftly" posted Santelli's rant to its website, where it was linked to by the Drudge Report, and in the following days, CNBC shamelessly promoted various byproducts of Santelli's outburst. Aside from the obvious fact that Santelli hadn't read the President's mortgage rescue proposal, it isn't at all clear why anyone views him as a competent commentator on economic affairs. In September, just weeks before the economic crisis hit prime time, Santelli declared on CNBC, "I think that the economy is healthy." Further, despite the fact that the economy was already in recession, Santelli opposed Bush's much too modest 2008 stimulus package. Unfortunately, while Santelli carefully avoids discussing the actual merits of Obama's mortgage plan, he is likely to be rewarded for his uninformed antics. The Chicago Tribune reported over the weekend that Santelli has already heard from several publishers about a possible book deal.