Jackie Calmes, White House reporter for the New York Times, made a surprise appearance in the Friday Weekend Arts pages to talk about cherry blossom season in Washington, D.C.: "A Fleeting Beauty, Shared With the Multitudes." What was unsurprising was Calmes shoehorning in yet another defense of Obama's economic "stimulus" and a chiding of conservative Republican Rep. Eric Cantor. (The article hasn't yet made it to nytimes.com.)
From far and near, the blossoms do not disappoint. But up close, the Tidal Basin is another story. The concrete seawall that forms the circular promenade beneath the trees' branches was decrepit in the late 1980s. It's worse now: Cracked, sloping toward the water, full of standing puddles in many spots, the walk forces pedestrians to look down frequently for their own safety when they want to be looking up.
(Just consider the wreckage as another monument, a metaphorical one, representing Washington's broken political system. The $800 billion economic-stimulus package that President Obama signed into law three years ago included $200 million to rehabilitate the National Mall, mostly to repair the Tidal Basin seawall.
But conservative pundits and Congressional Republicans seized on the sum as evidence of the measure's excess -- Representative Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican who is now the House majority leader, said the money would be used to ''upkeep the grass on the lawns of Washington'' -- and it was yanked from the legislation. PolitiFact.com, the nonpartisan fact-checking group, ruled Mr. Cantor's claim false, saying he ''grossly distorted the numbers to make a point.'')
Conservatives would take great issue with the assumption that PolitiFact is "nonpartisan," given this finding:
A Smart Politics content analysis of more than 500 PolitiFact stories from January 2010 through January 2011 finds that current and former Republican officeholders have been assigned substantially harsher grades by the news organization than their Democratic counterparts. In total, 74 of the 98 statements by political figures judged “false” or “pants on fire” over the last 13 months were given to Republicans, or 76 percent, compared to just 22 statements for Democrats (22 percent).
In August 2011 Calmes wrote one of her many paeans to the success of Obama's stimulus, suggesting only that it had not gone far enough: "...contrary to Republicans' claims, economists generally judged his 2009-10 stimulus program to have helped, but to have been insufficient to overcome the deep downturn."