The stimulus package - Martha Randolph Carr

The hallmark of candidate Barack Obama's race to the presidency was his clarity. He had a message of change, and was so on point that, at every turn, he was able to steer the populace back to his conversation.

It didn't matter how much John McCain's team tried to muddle the message. Obama knew why he was there and believed in what he had to say. We quickly came around and believed in Obama.

It all worked like a textbook campaign and even had old school Republicans admiring his success. However, President Obama and his new administration seem to already be getting lost within the complexity of the new role.

There were a few early missteps with cabinet appointments, such as Daschle and Geithner and their tax problems. But those can be expected because candidates for jobs don't always tell their future employer everything, in the hopes that no one will notice. Geithner, though, still has a job in the administration while Daschle was sent packing. While there may have been a plausible explanation for why both men made the same error in judgment, but only one is suffering the consequence, no one is talking.

It's a rather tired dose of American irony that Geithner has been confirmed as Treasury Secretary, and as one of his duties, will oversee the IRS.

The other bit of déjà vu is the contents of the stimulus package. Perhaps it was too much to really believe that it was possible to come up with an economic bill that would be streamlined and on point. While less than 1 percent appears frivolous, it's still in there and gives the impression that some deals had to be made in order to get the votes needed to pass the entire package.

However, another option could have been to hold the line and put forward only those projects which would have helped rebuild America's infrastructure, preserve health care at a time when more Americans are losing their coverage, protect school budgets, stimulate lending by the banks and create jobs. Then we could have all watched the vote.

Those who chose to vote against the bill would have been held accountable and wouldn't have the rallying cry of "pork barrel spending" to hide behind. Instead, we're left with the task of pointing out that the Republicans who are standing up in front of the cameras with charts of money being stacked around the planet were gung ho when their man, Bush, was looking to do the same thing. Then it was patriotic, and now it's a paper belt around the Earth.

In either case, it's the same old song with the parties standing on opposite sides this time. In other words, so far not much actually changed. That would be the biggest disappointment.

President Obama sets out this week to campaign for the stimulus bill during town meetings across America. It's an effort to pressure Congress to hurry up and say, "yes," to the package. But Obama already won over American voters.

We even agree that the country's infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and school buildings need to be revamped. And that new energy sources have to be pursued for both environmental and geopolitical reasons. And both of those will take time before real jobs are created, but they'll come and the economic mess we're in is going to require time before we successfully emerge.

But what about what's still missing in the bill? There is no solid plan to keep Americans in their homes, help others get in a new home, or deal with the glut of homes choking the market. It's as if the middle class was once again forgotten.

If topics that solely benefit the middle of America, such as housing, affordable higher education or decent health care aren't included in this package, then we really are back to the old business as usual.

We are in the biggest economic downturn since the 1930's, and yet we still can't get either side to trumpet the average American's needs or concerns. Instead, we're watching cartoons of dollar bills stacked toward the moon.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.