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Why Obama won't use the word 'stimulus'

Lefty Democrats tried for years to reclaim the word "liberal" from the negative associations Ronald Reagan and his entourage attached to the term. It didn't work. So they recently adopted the label "progressive" to describe essentially the same position on the American political spectrum. The lesson: Sometimes it's not easy to change the connotations that the public has attached, often with encouragement, to the words we use when discussing politics. Some language is irretrievably charged. Sometimes it's just better to use different words, as intellectually galling as that may be.

President Obama, the first president to win with the support of the modern-day "progressive" movement, knows this lesson. Throughout his Friday press conference and during the past week, in which he has argued publicly for his economic program, the press has noticed that the term "stimulus" has been absent from his vocabulary. And, after CBS's Chip Reid pressed him on this Friday, the president got a question about whether the White House's latest economic policy proposals were "a second stimulus." Obama smiled knowingly -- perhaps he was tempted to rehabilitate the word? But he chose to do something in between that and ignoring the question, insisting that his proposals were meant to "stimulate growth and jobs." He said that was what the administration's agenda was all about. "Isn't that what we should be doing?"

What a waste of airtime.

Stimulus was once a basically neutral, academic term, at least when discussing stimulus of the economic sort. Then came the nearly trillion-dollar American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) -- the legislation that the word now stands for -- and the public discomfort that comes with spending, well, nearly a trillion dollars of taxpayers' money, not always in the most attractive ways. "Porkulus" was the Tea Party's mocking designation, before the unaltered word became discredited enough to simply leave it at "stimulus" and let the bad aura do its work.

It's worth noting, too, that given the compromises required to move the bill in Congress and the inevitably slow recovery, the administration had a near-impossible task in advertising the stimulus's success. Even basic things got in the way, such as the signs used on stimulus-funded infrastructure projects, which mentioned that these visible, earth-moving results of the rescue package were funded with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- whatever that is! -- not "the stimulus."

So, sadly, it's smart of Obama to avoid using the word, or mounting an explicit defense of the term. It even got a little scary Friday when the president started to talk of "stimulating" growth and jobs -- dangerously close to the S-word itself.

That doesn't make it any less silly, of course, that "stimulus," which should simply be a descriptive term for a desired policy outcome, has become a dirty word in public debate. And the question the president got Friday about whether his latest policy initiative would be "a second stimulus" was shallow. What practical difference would that make to the proposed policy? Maybe the press and the public should give Obama a pass on this one instead putting semantics ahead of substance.

By Stephen Stromberg  | September 10, 2010; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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"if we pass this, we can keep unemployment from going above 7%. if we don't, it could go over 9%"

uh, that.

Posted by: dummypants | September 10, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

The only word I want to hear is TARIFFS.

Anyone who says they cannot get out of the trade deals and we cannot have tariffs is saying that the USA cannot turn around, cannot be saved as a nation, and they are planning their own personal survival, not yours.

Posted by: Elisa2 | September 10, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

What Elisa2 said!

Posted by: pmendez | September 10, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

This is easy. STIMULUS was a Bush term for Stimulus and Stabilization Act. He thought he was hitting a speed bump. Obama kept the term when he thought he was hitting a temporary recession.

Its actual effect was STABILIZATION of the currently employed, mostly in state and local government. The STIMULUS did not create jobs as much as it preserved jobs, which is important during an economic downturn when citizens expect the same services or greater.

The proper term was STABILIZATION which is the best the government can do. Politically STIMULUS implies job creation which is difficult to do sustainably.

Posted by: Beacon2 | September 10, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

obama baby failed on his first trillion stimulus. so understandable he wants to call it something else. the obama bailout bill maybe? whatever it takes to get reelected.

Posted by: dcodco | September 10, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Aren't we all stimulated already - NO MORE STIMULUS Mr. President! We've had enough of your trillion dollar porkulus spending resulting in zero economic effect!

Posted by: CJ123 | September 10, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

The answer is to very heavily tax the porkulous financial capitalists that have no value to America.

Taxation is a legal and important method of removing unproductive capital from the system. The government prints money to stimulate the economy, it taxes when it over-prints money. We have clearly over printed money. The money it printed has not helped the economy, it has enriched financial capitalists. That money must be retrieved.

Posted by: Beacon2 | September 10, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

"Why Obama won't use the word 'stimulus'"


1. His teleprompter writer can't spell the word 'stimulus', and

2. Obama can't proniunce the word 'stimulus'.

But, then, that's what you get from a community organizer.

Posted by: apdseal | September 10, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Stimulus is way to sexual!!! but non-regulatory is not irregular and trust but verify didn't refer to trusts and regulatory was fine regarding morality and behavior... and change we can believe in is spare change after the wars and bailouts of the free enterprise monopoly hippocrickets...

Posted by: Wildthing1 | September 10, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Obama should apologize to the country for his miserable failures.

Then resign.

Posted by: bob59 | September 10, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Elisa2 is right on the money.

The politicians, having ridden us into oblivion financially and security-wise are busy stuffing their pockets with both hand.

Party doesn't matter.

Posted by: deadmanwalking | September 10, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

The President is over stimulated with himself. He needs some cold showers and/or he should inhale some herb and relax at Camp David for awile and give Air Force One a break so they can schedule some needed maintenance.

He is tighter than a drum. He has lost touch with himself and the American people. Can he con his base into voting for him again?

Posted by: alance | September 10, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

The public doesn't like "stimulus" first of all because they think of it and TARP and bailouts as part of a package. As Sen. Warner said, it was a crazy label.

The same is any reference to "infrastructure," which is understood by 10% of the population. The President should have had a simple "road" program and forget trains, etc.

As for the health program, the public hates it because it cut Bush's prescrption $1.3 trillion program by $500 billion. This includes $200 insurance to enrich his favorite interest group: the AARP insurance company. And he did nothing to limit or pay insurance increases, which are way up.

The President is a terrible politician and worse communicator.

Posted by: jhough1 | September 10, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

dummypants writes: "if we pass this, we can keep unemployment from going above 7%. if we don't, it could go over 9%"

.... And that might have been the case, had the unemployment rate not already risen to 8.5% by the time Bush left office.

Posted by: napapjd | September 10, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Remember the days long ago when "Gay" meant "Happy/light hearted"? Mr. Obama has ended up making "Stimulus" synonymous with "Deficit"!!!

Posted by: wpcdias | September 11, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Mon Dieu! Were you actually paid for this tripe you hack Stromberg? I watched the whole address yesterday and Obama didn't back off from using the word, he realized, mid thought, that traitors like you who support the paralysis of our nations PROGRESS would parse the word and merely pointed out as much.
You don't even have the sense, on this day no less, to pretend any kind of unity is needed at this crucial juncture in our history.
You are an insignificant, small man and I've no doubt your spouse hasn't known much stimulus lately.

Posted by: mot2win | September 11, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Democrats have, for decades now, allowed the opposition to define them, based no doubt on some sense of "political correctness" woefully misplaced.

America is a "LIBERAL DEMOCRACY". Why? Because there is no such thing as a "conservative democracy" and there never has been.

Republican tactics of demonizing words has an appeal to the 5th grade minds of Republican voters. Why Democrats do not aggressively call out the name-callers, remains a mystery to me. If there is a dirty word in political speech, I nominate "CONSERVATIVE", as the enemy of progress in any form.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | September 11, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

The PC Grinches are telling Obama not to use the word stimulus. Scared Obama a moment as he wondered if that might require that he stop spending "other people's money". From Obama's point of view, there are lots of fun things to buy, services to be ordered, big vacations to plan.

So Obama sent the PC Police to find out how the excort services do it. 1 hr = 120 roses, thus the leading oval office thought is that we might float 50 billion roses over the Construction Unions for votes at taxpayer expense. Barack liked it! Stimulus wasn't mentioned out loud once.

Posted by: 2012frank | September 11, 2010 10:43 PM | Report abuse

President Obama and the Democrat sponsored timulus bill created more than 3 million jobs, 40% of the money was spent on tax cuts for the middle class. Middle class workers Federal Income Tax marginal rate was cut by 5%. The Bush/Cheney Regime created less than 3 million jobs in eight year. The Democrat stimulus bill worked to perfection. The only drawback was that it was not large enough. The stimulus bill should have been about 3 trillion dollars.

Posted by: ODDOWL | September 13, 2010 3:15 AM | Report abuse

President Obama and the Democrat sponsored timulus bill created more than 3 million jobs, 40% of the money was spent on tax cuts for the middle class. Middle class workers Federal Income Tax marginal rate was cut by 5%. The Bush/Cheney Regime created less than 3 million jobs in eight year. The Democrat stimulus bill worked to perfection. The only drawback was that it was not large enough. The stimulus bill should have been about 3 trillion dollars.

Posted by: ODDOWL | September 13, 2010 3:16 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps if the media had been as diligent about factual reporting about the impact of the stimulus as they were in reporting the raucous crazies distorting this information we might as a nation be able to have a discussion about it that would inform rather than inflame. There was virtually NO coverage of this when compared to the enthusiastic coverage of opposition.

I am fatigued with the media's sudden awareness that misinformation, which they actively disseminated, is suddenly understood to have been problematic. The incessant polls now that show the public is uninformed or misinformed is not a function of the Obama administration's failure to control the message. It is the media's unacknowledged decisions that controlled the message and now leaves us all noticing that there is a lot of confusion afloat.

The fourth estate failed in its job. I think they should own this.

Posted by: pbkritek | September 13, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

September 13, 2010 CNS NEWS

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spent $823,200 of economic stimulus funds in 2009 on a study by a UCLA research team to teach uncircumcised African men how to wash their genitals after having sex. The genitalia-washing program is part of a larger $12-million UCLA study examining how to better encourage Africans to undergo voluntary HIV testing and counseling – however, only the penis-washing study received money from the 2009 economic stimulus law. The washing portion of the study is set to end in 2011...

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | September 13, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Obama is a consummate speaker who cannot put his words into action. Empty promises, missed deadlines and no clear plan for the economy is why he needs to keep blaming the Republicans and now Boehner. "Everything we've done is designed to stimulate growth in the economy - that's our entire agenda." Unfortunately, Mr. Obama it your design failed. Your economic advisors just throw more money down that black stimulus hole. Three design packages later and unemployment is still inching up. The only thing Mr. Obama and his design HAS stimulated is the National Debt!

Posted by: Bockscar | September 13, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

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