Stimulus: The One Word The Obama Administration Now Avoids

President Obama was catching flak for his new stimulus plan even before he announced it last week. The problem with the proposed measures, according to the president's political opponents, was that they would be simply even more stimulus.

At their core, most opposing arguments against the new package, which would include a $200 billion tax credit for businesses and $50 billion in infrastructure spending, seem purely political and tied to the perceived failure of the administration's original stimulus program.

The New Yorker's James Surowiecki explains in this week's issue why the word "stimulus," which Obama carefully avoided in his economic speech last Wednesday, has become such a convenient slur in lawmakers' political arsenal. Apart from the fact that "stimulus" can tend to be confused with "bailout," the public relations failure of the first stimulus package, Surowiecki argues, is actually due to its demonstrable success.

The legislation was more modest than the administration advertised at the time, Surowiecki says, and so when no visible changes resulted (like large-scale public works projects reminiscent of the New Deal), Americans assumed it had failed. But, Surowiecki continues, its real and essential successes were intended to be subtle. The program worked as well as it could, and because it worked, no one noticed. (The effects of added unemployment benefits, for example, were only felt by the jobless.)

Back in February, at the first anniversary of the stimulus package, Time blamed the public relations failure on the economy itself, which was more troubled than lawmakers realized in the early days of the administration. "The medicine has worked, to the extent it could, though the patient has not yet recovered," Time noted.

In his news conference Friday, Obama used the verb "stimulate," but never the noun "stimulus," CBS News pointed out. It's proof that, as CBS's Chip Reid said, "It's a word that's just taboo here at the White House."

The strategy of announcing the new plan's components individually, rather than as a "package," makes the program seem less like the original stimulus. As The Atlantic notes, "not calling it a 'stimulus' makes it marginally less easy to attack."