26 February 2009

Intellectuals, "the real America" and the GOP

I'd like to examine the state of the Republican Party in February 2009, with a particular focus on two individuals who recently have been deified by "the base," and evaluate exactly what that says about the GOP as a whole.

Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as "Joe the Plumber," appeared today as a panelist at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. The topic? New media strategies to shape the future of conservatism. In case you discount CPAC as some sort of fringe convention, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney were the guests of honor last year.

Wurzelbacher was literally an overnight sensation, as he confronted Barack Obama in a rope line at an October campaign event, and asked Obama about the tax burden levied by his platform. Wurzelbacher's question elicited Obama's infamous "spread the wealth around remark," which lit a spark under the McCain campaign and raised eyebrows about the Changemaker's view of the role of government.

McCain's team gleefully invoked Wurzelbacher's name hundreds of times over the next few weeks, attempting (with a moderate deal of success) to paint Obama as a typical redistributionist liberal. "Joe the Plumber" was a campaign message -- a metaphor for middle class Americans -- used to reflected the Hopemonger's subscription to many of the same failed economic policies that have driven western Europe into a perpetual recession.

Wurzelbacher's 15 minutes should have been up weeks before the election. Instead, subsequent to his encounter with Obama, he appeared on the CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, three shows on FOX News and multiple campaign rallies alongside McCain and Sarah Palin. 

Wurzelbacher has now inked a book deal. "Joe the Plumber -- Fighting for the American Dream" already has been sent to a number of media outlets for advance release. In January, Pajamas Media, a conglomeration of high-profile conservative blogs, made Wurzelbacher a foreign war correspondent, in which he reported directly from Israel. And as noted above, Wurzelbacher today appeared at CPAC.

The second individual for consideration is Gov. Palin herself.

Putting aside Palin's political predilections for the moment -- and even your personal opinions about her performance during the campaign -- what is it about Palin that so galvanizes the base?

The late William Buckley -- the undisputed godfather of modern conservatism -- hired a young David Brooks at the National Review the mid-1980s, and as Buckley entered the twilight of his life, the two men developed a close relationship. Brooks had this to say about the great man:

"His entire life was a celebration of urbane values, sophistication, and the rigorous and constant application of intellect. Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind."

In October, Sarah Palin referred to small town in Virginia as "the real America" and one of the "pro-America areas of this great nation." It was a remarkable statement. And it was blatant, shameless, ignorant pandering.

I am friends with many Democrats. And any suggestion that these people -- or left-of-center politicians such as Bob Casey, Jim Webb or Joe Biden -- love their country any less than small-town Americans is outrageous.

It's stupid.

And it's either demagoguery, or it's staggering ignorance.

Sarah Palin asks her supporters to believe that there are two kinds of Americans: wholesome, hard-working Americans from the heartland; and secular, overeducated intellectuals on the coasts. I agree with Brooks' assessment that Palin's attitude evinces the fact that Republicans' disdain for stuffy, intellectual elites like Michael Dukakis and John Kerry has inexplicably grown into a disdain for intellectuals generally.

Sarah Palin shamelessly reverses the same cultural and class warfare of the media elites that she so derides. This kind of cultural warfare is no better than the "cultural condescension" peddled by the likes of Kerry, Krugman, Dowd, et al. that is so pervasive in modern liberalism. 

If you think otherwise, it's time to put down the kool-aid.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan won every state in the union but Walter Mondale's home state of Minnesota. This means that Reagan took California, Oregon, Illinois and the entire northeast. What he built was a conservative movement rooted in salt-of-the-earth ideals that resonated from coast to coast.

Somewhere between Reagan's staggering 49-state take in 1984 and Sarah Palin's acidic October remarks, the Republican Party has managed to isolate virtually every educated swath of the electorate and intellectual area of the country. 

We discussed this several weeks ago regarding Rush Limbaugh's staggering influence in the conservative movement and the utter lack of a marketplace of ideas in Republican circles. After an enormous electoral trouncing, how can the party better itself if intellectuals with sophisticated ideas not only aren't given a voice, but are scorned?

And how can it continue to sustain the poisonous cultural-warfare message belted out by Palin, et al.? What type of undecided voter is attracted to such an idea?

As long as moderate voters see the likes of Limbaugh, Palin and Wurzelbacher as conservatism's faces and opinion-makers, the Republican Party will continue to languish in the wilderness.

For now, this is a party that is so far off of the tracks that it's beyond laughable. 

UPDATE: Friday, February 27, 2009 at 1:05 p.m.: Yesterday, the affable Mr. Wurzelbacher made the following remarks:

"Back in the day, really, when people would talk about our military in a poor way, somebody would shoot 'em. And there'd be nothing said about that, because they knew it was wrong."

Un. Freaking. Believable.

This, kids, is called fascism. 

Once again, the level of sheer, unadulterated ignorance is beyond staggering.

Hat tip: Donklephant.

24 February 2009

The view from David Vitter's glass house

Pot, meet kettle.

This week's "Just Shut Up Award" goes to Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who had the audacity to criticize Sen. Roland Burris' shaky/perjurious testimony concerning his contacts with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Vitter, a father of four, is an admitted client of the "D.C. Madam" prostitution ring. After her criminal conviction, ringleader Deborah Jeane Palfrey committed suicide in 2008, just weeks before her sentencing date. Vitter's phone number appeared in Palfrey's records on five separate occasions, two of them when House roll call votes (Vitter was a congressman at the time) were in session.

Vitter publicly admitted "a very serious sin in my past," but refused to divulge specifics. He has refused to speak with the press about his actions, has adamantly refused calls for his resignation, and said he intends to run for re-election in 2010.

A rising star in the social conservative movement, Vitter's reputation has been shattered (except among hard-core right-wingers, those who deplore President Clinton for his marital infidelities, but most of whom would still give Vitter a standing ovation if he walked into the room) among those to the left of Sean Hannity.

Vitter is a vociferous opponent of gay marriage, gay adoption and gambling, and has railed in favor of abstinence-only education. He has opined that abstinence-only education teaches teenagers "that saving sex until marriage and remaining faithful afterwards is the best choice for health and happiness."

You could cut the irony with a knife.

David Vitter is a hypocrite who is unfit for the office he holds. He is a disgrace to the Republican Party and owed his constituents his immediate resignation. I appreciate the fact that he claims to have asked God and his family for forgiveness. However, the fact that he would utter a sound about Sen. Burris evinces a complete lack of understanding about how seriously he betrayed the public's trust. 

When scandals hit the Beltway, it's Vitter's job to keep his mouth shut. 

The fact that the Republican Party is home to the likes of Larry "I Have a Wide Stance" Craig and David Vitter illustrates the dangers of building a political party on the supposed moral high ground, and how things can go terribly wrong from inside a glass house.

18 February 2009

Making the oceans recede ...

The Chairman said something to me during the Democratic primary around this time last year, when the then-junior senator from the great state of Illinois ratcheted up his hopenchange rhetoric in an attempt to bury the then-junior senator from the great state of New York.

Underlying Barack Obama's lofty statements was a was a very clear implication: The world's problems haven't been solved because I haven't taken office yet.

I have been fascinated (albeit discouraged and disappointed) with Barack Obama and his meteoric rise since he burst onto the national stage in 2004. He is an electrifying speaker whose sweeping rhetorical flourishes have reportedly caused rabid disciples to faint at his rallies. (As an aside, our country hadn't seen a cult movement like Obamania since, well, Howard Dean's wildly entertaining yet ill-fated run at the presidency in 2004.)

But the crux of Obama's appeal to many was his promise to literally change the world by engaging America's enemies. Let me point out that I am not necessarily averse to dialoguing with countries of whom we are suspicious. Most notably, I am currently outlining a post concerning the reopening of dialogue with Syria. Paul Wolfowitz, I am not.

However, President Obama has taken the Powell theory to a different stratosphere, both in the foreign and domestic contexts. 

In the foreign policy area, he distinguished himself from the likes of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton by pushing active diplomatic engagement with Iran. Although she rightly ridiculed the Hopemonger's naivete during the Democratic primary, Secretary Clinton has now been pathetically peddling his nonsensical rhetoric since taking over at Foggy Bottom. Both Obama and Clinton have uttered the statement, "We are willing to reach out our hand to Iran, if it is willing to unclench its fist."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijhad openly ridiculed Obama's "weakness" in the wake of this statement, effectively preconditioning any diplomatic overtures on America's shunning of "the Zionist entity" (see: Israel). It's clear that he wasn't interested. As predicted by virtually everyone on the right and in the center, Ahmadenijhad made a mockery of Obama's friendly overtures.

And why wouldn't he? A tinpot dictator of a third-world country, Ahmadenijhad clearly relishes his status as the most dangerous man in the world. He has used western opposition to his nuclear ambitions to successfully rally the cause of Iranian solidarity, despite his heavy-handed dictatorial edicts. By controlling virtually every media outlet in his country and making opposition forces disappear, Ahmadenijhad has simultaneously managed to crush dissent and stir up a nationalistic sentiment. Thus, it was a no-brainer to make a laughingstock of President Obama's olive branch. 

The bottom line is that Mahmoud Ahmadenijhad has no incentive to engage Barack Obama. He is able to brashly pursue his nuclear ambitions, he crushes dissent and he clearly loves the attention given to him by the West as his country moves closer to being a nuclear power. 

Does our president really believe that his transcendent personality would bring Ahmadenijhad off the ledge?

The president took a similar attitude with respect to the "bipartisan stimulus" he and the Democrats recently muscled through Congress. 

Obama (to his credit) met with House Republicans to make his initial sales pitch. He likewise invited a number of Republican legislators to the White House several days later for a cocktail hour. He watched the Super Bowl with a bipartisan group of congressmen. He actively engaged several moderate Republican senators in an effort to win their support.

But as noted in this space before, bipartisanship is not a one-way street. The president went only as far as he needed in order to pick off three centrist Republican senators. Outwardly, he seems genuinely perplexed as to why his outreach to congressional Republicans, by and large, was completely unfruitful.

It's because politics is more than talk. What he has thus far failed to understand is that paying lip service to engaging congressional Republicans is no substitute for substantive movement in their direction. The bill eventually muscled through Congress and signed by the president yesterday was essentially Nancy Pelosi's original draft, with a few revisions, but still a Christmas tree of Democrats' favorite social causes.

In short, if you want people who disagree with you to listen and work with you, you must give them a reason.

He has taken the same attitude vis-a-vis Iran. Up to this point, Barack Obama has convinced himself that his transformative persona is the tonic for virtually every problem the country faces. He's a typical, party-line-voting Democrat whose only distinguishing characteristic is his lofty rhetoric. 

This attitude is dangerous, it's naive, and it's a recipe for a failed presidency.

And it further typifies his unfitness for the office he holds.

10 February 2009

The GOP and the fallacy of out-of-control plaintiffs

One of the most maddening, yet least-reported, tendencies of the Republican Party is its obsession with curbing what it terms "runaway" lawsuits.

What "the shrinking middle class" is to Democrats, "greedy trial lawyers" are to the GOP. Both fixations are complete and utter fallacies.

Last week, a bill was introduced in the Georgia state senate whereby a plaintiff would be forced to pay the costs of a prevailing defendant if its lawsuit was dismissed in the earliest possible stage. The bill is not clear as to whether this refers to a mere order dismissing the claim for failure to prosecute, or a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (commonly known as a 12(b)(6) motion in federal court).

Either way, this bill is an atrocious idea, and the GOP's fixation with "out-of-control" lawsuits continues to lack any sort of credible basis. 

(By the way, I speak of the GOP generally for two reasons -- first, a "loser pays" provision was part of the Republican "Contract with America" in 1994; and second, President Bush stoked the fire of limiting "runaway" medical malpractice lawsuits during his re-election campaign in 2004).

First, the GOP's premise is wholly devoid of any factual support. Its underlying assumption is that verdicts and settlements are on the rise, which, ergo, has led to more expensive malpractice premiums for doctors and hospitals. This cost is then transferred on to the patients, driving the overall cost of health care up.
However, ask a conservative to cite a single piece of evidence of this upward trend. They can't. In fact, although malpractice premiums have in fact gone up over the last decade, verdicts and settlements have gone down.

If the GOP wants to actually make a difference in terms of health care providers' malpractice costs, why not regulate the malpractice insurance industry instead?

The answer is because the insurance lobby is one of the GOP's most lucrative benefactors, just like trial lawyers are vis-a-vis Democrats.

Second, Republicans carry an assumption that greedy attorneys encourage clients who have baseless claims to file lawsuits, and that they're able therefor to reap an immediate windfall. This is false.

The vast majority of tort lawsuits (encompassing personal injury, medical malpractice and even civil rights violations) are taken on a contingency fee basis. Generally, if the lawsuit settles in advance of either the trial date or the formal filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiff's lawyer takes between 1/4 and 1/3 of the overall recovery. That percentage generally goes up after trial has commenced, and goes up again in the likely event of an appeal. The other side of the coin is largely ignored, however. If there is no recovery -- no matter how much time and effort a plaintiff's lawyer has poured into a case -- the attorney receives nothing.

As a corollary to the above, the third point must be understood. Generally -- especially in the malpractice arena -- these "quick settlements" just don't happen in reality. 

My firm handled one particular medical malpractice case that settled last summer. The defendants -- a surgeon and the large St. Louis hospital where he was employed -- could have settled the case immediately for between $70,000-80,000, without ever stepping foot into the courthouse. Instead, they poured that amount and more into legal fees to defend the suit, on deposition costs and expert witness fees. On the morning of trial, the case settled for about $90,000. So the defendants paid $90,000 in attorneys' fees and costs, and another $90,000 to our client, instead of paying less than half of that to make the lawsuit go away.

I have another half-dozen stories just like this, just from the last year and a half.

This is reality. Unless the facts of the case show egregious negligence, defendants don't "just settle" to make plaintiffs go away. 

Driving the bus in these cases is not the doctor or hospital, but rather the defendant's malpractice carrier. And based on the malpractice carrier's business model, it is considered more beneficial in the long run to spend more money now litigating a lawsuit to its ultimate conclusion in front of a jury, as opposed to settling quickly. This refusal to settle has a deterring effect, and sends a clear message to the plaintiffs' bar that "strike suits" will be unfruitful.

Fourth, the Georgia bill ignores the reality that an initial pleading (called either a petition or complaint) that is defective for failure to state a cognizable cause of action is the fault of the attorney, not the plaintiff.  If a petition is dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, it is likely that the attorney has failed to read the relevant statute. In Missouri, for instance, a medical malpractice plaintiff is required to submit an affidavit from an expert who has evaluated the case and is willing to testify as to the validity of the plaintiff's claim. If the plaintiff doesn't submit this affidavit, his or her case is automatically dismissed. And any attorney worth his salt will seek out such an expert before filing suit. Many states have similar laws. By initiating a "loser pays" law, the legislature would serve to transfer the burden for what is clearly the attorney's error on to the innocent client. 

Fifth, a procedural device called an "offer of judgment" -- in force in virtually every state in the union -- serves to do the exact same thing as a "loser pays" statute, but without the chilling effect on plaintiffs. An offer of judgment is essentially a public settlement offer from the defendant that is filed as an actual pleading with the court. It is a public document. Upon the filing of an offer of judgment, a plaintiff might be allowed a certain amount of time (determined by statute) to accept the defendant's offer. In the event that the plaintiff rejects the defendant's offer, however, and receives any amount less than the offer of judgment from the jury, the plaintiff will be on the hook for the defendant's costs from the time of the filing of the offer to the date of the jury verdict. The particular makeup of the "offer of judgment" rule varies from state to state, but the principle is the same throughout jurisdictions.

Finally (and this is perhaps the least convincing argument), the "loser pays" rule is violative of the traditional American rule of each party paying its own costs. The so-called English rule (in force, of course, in Great Britain) imposes liability for an opponent's costs on the losing party, but from the inception of the American republic, such a rule has been roundly rejected. Proponents of the "loser pays" rule are unable to advance any argument as to why it should apply only to plaintiffs bringing personal injury or medical malpractice claims, and not lawsuits that are challenges to validly written wills or for breach of contract.

In conclusion, the idea of the "out-of-control plaintiff" is a complete and utter fallacy. Proponents -- mostly conservatives -- of "loser pays" statutes or other forms tort reform refuse to allow facts to get in the way of their stance.

07 February 2009

The bipartisan stimulus that wasn't

Eight-hundred and twenty billion.

Apparently, according to President Obama, the Democrats and Arlen Specter, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, that's how many taxpayer dollars it will take to lift us out of "these tough economic times" (copyright: John McCain). This, of course, on the heels of a $750 billion bailout of Wall Street, passed in October, and a $30 billion bailout of the American auto industry's "Big Three." The total cost of this package, by the way, after interest payments are factored in, is expected to top $1.2 trillion.

And that's trillion, with a "T."

The good? About 40 percent of this bill's cost comes in the form of tax cuts. I think it's safe to assume that the three aforementioned Republicans, as well as Nebraska's Ben Nelson and South Dakota's Kent Conrad (both Democrats) insisted that some of the laughable discretionary spending be replaced by tax cuts. This bill is, admittedly, superior to Nancy Pelosi's House bill, which allocated only about 22 percent of the entire package to tax cuts. To the credit of Collins, she insisted that a number of liberals' favorite social programs be axed before she would pledge her support. 

The bad? In the last four months, two administrations have saddled us with nearly $2 trillion in debt. This, of course, is on top of the $10 trillion debt (which, I continually delight in reminding readers, doubled under the reportedly "Republican" presidency of George W. Bush) that exists now. 

And the ugly? Overall, I didn't dispute the necessity of some governmental intervention. The unemployment rate is approaching European levels, at 8 percent. But $800 billion, plus? That's outlandish. What's perhaps most disappointing is that the president continued to maintain that it was his way or the highway. After a first bipartisan coalition drew up a bill that cost around $450 million, Obama wanted nothing to do with it. Without explaining why -- and, notably, without citing any sort of research by any economist -- the president simply said that wasn't enough.

This bill could have been half this size, and it's disingenuous for anyone to claim otherwise. There has been no evidence proffered by the Democrats to suggest otherwise. The president knows it. 

And by the way, the White House still has about half of the leftover TARP funds to work with.

I'd like to know whether Barack Obama, Barney Frank, E.J. Dionne and Paul Krugman really believe that it will take $2 trillion to pull us out of each recession. 

My worry with last year's TARP bailout was that it would set a dangerous precedent, especially if Democrats regained control of Washington. As usual, I was right.

All told, the Senate will have chopped only about 10% off of the cost of Pelosi's package. That's not good enough.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has rebutted the president's suggestion that the economy will tank further if Congress does not act. It opined last week that although the bill might kick-start the economy in the short term, it will have a much more damaging effect down the road because of the enormous debt the bill saddles on the next generation.

As McCain noted today on Face the Nation, this bill is nothing more than generational theft.

And, as further noted by McCain, it would be even more disingenuous to call this package "bipartisan." Picking off three Republicans, out of the roughly 240 that serve in Congress, isn't any sort of bipartisan effort. The White House moved only as far as it needed to in order to garner the support of Specter, Collins and Snowe.

If the Democrats were truly serious about stimulating the economy and not just their spending proclivities, they would have agreed to the "trigger" provision that McCain attempted to add to the bill, which would have rolled back stimulus spending after two consecutive quarters of GDP growth, in an effort to keep spending under control.

This isn't "change we can believe in," Mr. President. 

It's more of the same.

03 February 2009

Demagoguery we can believe in

In November 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama transformatively promised, "I won't take a dime of [lobbyists'] money. 

"And when I'm president, they won't find a job in my White House."

It was a remarkable statement.

Riding the wave of Hopenchange during the spring and into the summer, the Changemaker routinely condemned Sen. John McCain for keeping a handful of ex-lobbyists on his advisory team. 

Then Obama won the election. 

And something fascinating started to happen.

On January 21, the day after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order banning any former lobbyists who might join his administration from dealing with matters related to their lobbying work. Likewise, the executive order mandated that these individuals could not join the agency they lobbied for a period of two years.


Because that sounds a lot different.

Back to the lobbying issue in a moment.

While simultaneously promising to do away with "politics as usual," Obama nominated three high-level appointees -- Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner and Nancy Killefer -- who had previously owned a staggering amount of backtaxes. 

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Obama's first and much-lauded choice for commerce secretary, voluntarily withdrew his name as a result of a grand jury investigation into a state contract awarded to one of his most high-profile donors.

The most damning indictment of Barack Obama's "new era," however, was the ludicrous appointment of former Senate Majority Leader Daschle to be the administration's chair of the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the White House's health czar.

Not only is Daschle an unabashed proponent of Euro-style socialized medicine (yes, liberal friends -- I'm sure that Daschle, the career obstructionist, intended to consult with a variety of advisors from across the political spectrum in a bipartisan fashion, and facilitate open, honest debate about a wide variety of fixes to the country's health-care issues), but as noted on this blog several times before, he had worked at the same high-profile Washington lobbying firm that employs former Sen. and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole -- Alston Bird -- since he was upended by John Thune in 2004.

(And yes, he was a lobbyist. Team Hope will have to do better than proffer his official title of "senior policy advisor." Alston Bird is a lobbying firm. What exactly do you think Daschle was doing at a law firm without a law degree?) 

Daschle has received better than $5 million over the last two years in consulting fees from a wide variety of clients, many of them inside the health-care realm. A number of health groups paid Daschle fees in excess of $15,000 per appearance to speak at their events.

It was a staggering conflict of interest.

William J. Lynn, Obama's choice to be the #2 man at the Department of Defense, recently worked as a lobbyist for Raytheon, a high-profile defense contractor. And William Corr, who was coincidentally tapped to be Daschle's second-in-command at HHS, lobbied for most of last year as an anti-tobacco advocate. 

Corr has promised that he will not deal with tobacco matters in the new administration.

Well, sir, that's refreshing.

What likewise slays me is White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' response: "Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions."


Because that's not what it sounded like when the Changemaker was pining for my vote.

Interestingly, Gibbs said that Daschle's decision today to withdraw his name from consideration was "his alone," and that he had received no prodding from the White House.

That's disappointing.

Because in this new era of hope, change and post-partisanship, he should have.

With his lofty rhetoric, Barack Obama set the bar for himself extraordinarily high. And all indications are that, as president, he won't come anywhere close to clearing it.

I suppose it's true that rules were made to be broken.

Even in Barack Obama's White House.

01 February 2009

... and they call this a stimulus ...

Several days ago, Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats rammed an $800 billion "economic stimulus package" through the House of Representatives with nary a Republican vote. Most economists peg the package at well over a trillion dollars, once interest payments are factored in.

I took in Fox News Sunday and Meet the Press today. Senators Dick Durbin and John Kerry warned of "one of the most serious economic crises in our history" (Durbin), urged "bold action" (Kerry), and explained how the president had already reached out to House Republicans in an unprecedented way (that is, he drove several blocks to Capitol Hill and talked with the GOP caucus for an hour).

Durbin, Kerry, Pelosi, et al. have couched the stimulus in the following terms: The economy is in the tank. The current crisis requires drastic governmental intervention. And as the belligerent, bug-eyed Pelosi has so eloquently maintained, "We won the election, so we wrote the bill." And by pointing to Obama's efforts to reach out to Republicans (which, to be fair, included a cocktail reception at the White House several days ago), they've tried to put the ball in the GOP's court.

President Obama likewise has been disingenuous about his supposed bipartisan overtones. I give him credit for meeting with the opposition in the House, a move that President Bush never would have even considered. Most Democrats have pointed to this meeting as some sort of transformative, never-before-seen gesture.

But I am not a partisan. I did not agree with much of what the Bush administration did. It spent too much. It focused on small-bore social issues like internet gambling and stem-cell research while our country fought wars in two theaters. It used a "51% majority" strategy to drive away the same swath of moderate Democrats that Reagan was able to win over. It marginalized Republican centrists like John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Chuck Hagel. Dissent was discouraged in what was perhaps the most partisan administration in modern history.

But Barack Obama is supposed to be different.

He sold himself to voters as some sort of transcendent post-partisan. If he fails to gain a single Republican vote from either house of Congress, it further cements to me that this carefully crafted image is a fraud.

Furthermore, the Democrats have confused form with substance. Simply because Obama spoke with House Republicans for an hour doesn't mean that GOP lawmakers are automatically compelled to vote for the president's bill. Any president can nominally meet with the opposition. The key to legitimate bipartisanship is the willingness to actually incorporate the other side's desires and concerns into legislation, and to engage in very real give and take. Bipartisanship is not a one-way street. If the president and the congressional Democratic leadership are serious about incorporating Republican ideas into the stimulus package, they would actually do so.

Is there any indication that the president is interested in doing this?

This $800 billion package is a disingenuous attempt by the Democratic Party to shove through virtually every plank of its agenda over the last 40 years.

On Meet the Press, David Gregory cited a quote from a top Democrat aide, who remarked this week that, in effect, the Democratic Party, with a perfect storm at its back, had the chance to do what President Reagan did a generation ago -- implement the party's entire agenda.

(The difference between 2009 and 1982, of course, is that Reagan worked directly with an entirely Democratic-controlled Congress.)

The House bill provides a $500 tax rebate to voters in select income brackets, nearly a third of whom don't pay income taxes at all.

It provides money for Filipino World War II veterans who are now living in their native country.

It allocates a staggering $15 billion to creating college scholarships.

A billion dollars are earmarked to deal with problems in administering the 2010 census.

Pelosi's bill includes $400 million for STD prevention.

And all under the guise of "economic stimulus."

This is pathetic, and it's just the tip of the iceberg.

President Obama indicated throughout the campaign that infrastructure investment would be the centerpiece of any new stimulus package, but such spending accounts for just 3 percent of the House's version of the bill.

Two moderate Democrats have already indicated that the stimulus package might be in trouble. Ben Nelson warned on Thursday that as currently constructed, not only will the president fail to get any Republican support in the Senate, but a number of Democrats might even cross party lines and vote against the stimulus package. This would be a crushing blow to the White House on the first major initiative of the Obama presidency.

And on Fox News Sunday, Kent Conrad stated in unequivocal terms that the House's bill contains too much wasteful spending, and that as currently constructed, he would vote against it.

Coming from a Democrat, that's a pretty damning critique.

If the Democrats are serious about actually addressing issues that will provide a real kind of stimulus to the American economy, they would focus on things like suspending the capital gains tax and various measures to encourage investor and consumer confidence. I don't agree with Chuck Schumer's idea to allow bankruptcy judges to unilaterally rewrite mortgage agreements, but he's right that the housing bubble precipitated the present crisis. At least Schumer's idea is one that would address one of the root causes of the economic crisis and "stimulate" the economy to some degree.

The bottom line is that this package spends far too much in too many of the wrong places and would add more than a trillion dollars to a national debt that doubled to more than $10 trillion under the leadership of President Bush.

If Democrats were truly serious about legislation to revive the struggling economy -- instead of using the crisis as an excuse to create a veritable Christmas tree of liberals' favorite social programs -- it wouldn't look anything like this.