Obama stimulus bill event signals political rise of the West

84,000 strong turned out for Barack Obama's nomination speech at INVESCO Field. (Photo/Jason Kosena)
84,000 strong turned out for Barack Obama's nomination speech at INVESCO Field. (Photo/Jason Kosena)
Will President Barack Obama rewrite the history books on how the West was won?

The Colorado Independent talks to University of Denver finance professor Mac Clouse and political science professor Susan Sterret on
the city’s prominent role in the Democrats’ resurgence and what that newfound power portends for the region’s economic future.

Sterret believes the Denver signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signals how important the West has become in any national electoral strategy.

“Colorado voted for Obama. It went Democratic. The West generally is moving away from the Republican policies. [The stimulus package] is a huge bill and it is likewise worth remarking upon the symbolic change of public policy it represents.”

She pointed to the significance of the building in Denver where the signing will take place .

“Look at where Obama is holding the ceremony: the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I think immediately of the solar panels on the roof. That’s no coincidence… The administration has emphasized the need to build on new technology and remake our country through science and math education. He’s making a point.”

Sterret thinks Tuesday will also echo Obama’s path-breaking election campaign, and not just because the Democratic convention and nomination acceptance speech took place here in Denver.

“He has said that signing the bill here takes him out of Washington. It suggests we should take seriously what the administration has said about Washington being an echo chamber. Look at the Obama campaign. One of the things that set it apart was that it relied so heavily on digital communications to bypass standard political channels. We should see what the administration is doing Tuesday through the lens of community organizing. He’s reaching out to the people.”

Clouse was cautiously optimistic about the local economic impact of the version of the stimulus package Obama will be signing on Tuesday.

“It’ll help. It will get people employed — but not immediately. Part of that is that these type of public works projects — roads and bridges and so on — it takes time to get the contracts out and get things underway. It’s also not clear how they will benefit the larger workforce. There’s an idealistic element to the package. If I’m a banker, say, what will this do for me? Labor isn’t as transferable as it seems. It’s not as clear practically as it is theoretically.

“I would have liked to have seen more tax incentives and subsidies to small businesses. Small businesses hatch into large businesses. Cash to small businesses [may have a more immediate effect] than [larger infrastructure] projects. You hire out-of-work friends… ”

Clouse said the nature of the stimulus package doesn’t point toward the kind of future U.S. economy Colorado’s alternative energy industry might represent.

“The problem is that the alternative energy industry is not competitive when oil prices drop. That’s just a reality. You saw a lot more interest in developing these sectors when the price of oil was hitting $100 a barrel. Now we’re talking again about oil shale extraction here and up north, in the Canadian fields…

“What we need is subsidies to replace oil shale development, for example… Subsidies to a company like Vestas here, which manufactures those enormous wind turbines to produce renewable energy. Those subsidies could be greatly expanded. Vestas could employ many more Coloradans. The government should be spending money to make those kind of companies more competitive. As these sources of energy develop, the companies behind them need an initial boost to improve startup times and bring costs down, to deliver power to the market and gain traction relative to oil.

“That’s not what we see in the stimulus.”

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