The Obama-as-the-new-Roosevelt talk died down when it became clear that the president doesn't want to be FDR the way you want him to be FDR. But there's someone out there for those of us pining for 1930s-style social programs: Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who has started a program that uses stimulus funds to directly subsidize jobs in one part of his state facing crippling unemployment thanks to a recent factory closing.
They are using welfare money from the stimulus package to subsidize 300 new jobs across Perry County, with employers ranging from the state Transportation Department to the milkshake place near the high school.
As a result, the June unemployment rate, which does not yet include all the new jobs, dropped to 22.1 percent [from 25].
“If I could have done a W.P.A. out there, I would have done a W.P.A. out there,” said Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, referring to the Works Progress Administration, which employed millions during the Great Depression
The article makes clear that local officials view this money as a temporary reprieve and are struggling to attract industry that would provide long-term jobs, but in the meantime this stopgap measure is helping keep people at work and improve the community. It's a very tangible way to deploy the stimulus, and one we may see more of in the coming months as other states look for smart ways to use their federal largesse. And politically, I think it will be very difficult for anyone to convince the people of Perry County that the stimulus is a big waste of money.
I'm very interested to see how the publicity around this program affects Bredesen's national reputation. The last time he surfaced in Washington chatter was after the administration floated him as a possible replacement for Tom Daschle's health car czar/HHS secretary role, but health wonks like Ezra quickly highlighted his much less-than-awesome management of TennCare, Tennesee's low-income health-care provider, and he fell by the wayside. But this sort of can-do, old-school program will earn (and deserves, frankly) plaudits from the left.
-- Tim Fernholz