The Political Junkie offers an outside-looking- in view of the US. Each day, we will highlight news and opinion pieces from around the world that are focused on US politics and policy. Agree or disagree with the opinions you will read but take a few minutes to see yourselves as others see you.
In a riveting account based on new documents and interviews with more
than 400 sources on both sides of the aisle, award-winning reporter
Michael Grunwald reveals the vivid story behind President Obama’s $800
billion stimulus bill, one of the most important and least understood
pieces of legislation in the history of the country. Grunwald’s
meticulous reporting shows how the stimulus, though reviled on the right
and the left, helped prevent a depression while jump-starting the
president’s agenda for lasting change. As ambitious and far-reaching as
FDR’s New Deal, the Recovery Act is a down payment on the nation’s
economic and environmental future, the purest distillation of change in
the Obama era.
Michael Grunwald, a Time magazine correspondent, this week publishes The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era,
a gripping account of President Obama’s stimulus bill. Grunwald writes
that the stimulus has transformed America—and American politics—in ways
that we have failed to recognize. I interviewed him by email about the
Slate: What possessed you to write this book?
Grunwald: I fled Washington for the public policy
paradise of South Beach while writing my last book, about the Everglades
and Florida, so in 2010 I was only vaguely aware of the Beltway
consensus that President Obama’s stimulus was an $800 billion joke. But
because I write a lot about the environment, I was very aware that the
stimulus included about $90 billion for clean energy, which was
astonishing, because the feds were only spending a few billion dollars a
year before. The stimulus was pouring unprecedented funding into wind,
solar, and other renewables; energy efficiency in every form; advanced
biofuels; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; cleaner coal; and factories
to make all that green stuff in the U.S.
It was clearly a huge deal. And it got me curious about what else was
in the stimulus. I remember doing some dogged investigative
reporting—OK, a Google search—and learning that the stimulus also
launched Race to the Top,
which was a real a-ha moment. I knew Race to the Top was a huge deal in
the education reform world, but I had no idea it was a stimulus
program. It quickly became obvious that the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act (the formal name of the stimulus) was also a huge deal
for health care, transportation, scientific research, and the safety net
as well as the flailing economy. It was about Reinvestment as well as Recovery, and it was hidden in plain view.
So I decided to do a piece for Time about this untold story.
But my editors thought I was nuts. The stimulus was old news.
Unemployment was 9 percent; what else was there to say? I actually flew
up to New York to make my case. I told my bosses I felt like a reporter
in 1938, trying to convince them to do a story on this initiative called
“The New Deal.” They looked at me like I was that blogger in The Newsroom
pitching his story on Bigfoot. To their credit, though, they eventually
let me write an article about how the stimulus was changing America,
which led to the book.