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The word Obama won't dare say

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
September 13, 2011 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
President Barack Obama holds a copy of the jobs bill he sent to Congress on Monday.
President Barack Obama holds a copy of the jobs bill he sent to Congress on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: President Obama proposes jobs bill but avoids word "stimulus"
  • Republicans are attacking it as another stimulus, Granderson says
  • Obama might as well call it what it is -- and defend it, he says
  • Granderson: Republicans are wrong; the stimulus averted a depression

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, has been named Journalist of the Year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com and a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @locs_n_laughs. Watch him on CNN Newsroom Tuesdays at 9 a.m. ET.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- Say what you will about the Republican Party's politics, but one thing I think we all can agree on is that they know how to control the message.

Instead of "educated," they say "elitist."

Instead of "the rich," they prefer "job creators."

And in their latest linguistic sleight of hand, the modern-day Houdinis have managed to turn "stimulus" into a four-letter word.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Or at least a word President Barack Obama no longer feels comfortable saying. In 2009, he couldn't say it enough. Now ... well, I didn't hear it once during his jobs speech last week, even though $447 billion in tax cuts and government spending would certainly qualify as being one.

Perry: 'Stimulus created zero jobs'

But the president and his administration can avoid whatever word they choose in describing the jobs bill; that's not going to change what Republicans say about it:

"With the president traveling the country touting his Stimulus II plan, it is important to understand the lessons from his first stimulus," Republican National Committee Reince Priebus said.

"I suspect I am not the only American asking, if a trillion dollars' worth of stimulus didn't work, why will another $450 billion do the trick?" former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson asked.

"He had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs, $400-plus billion in this package. And I can do the math on that one. Half of zero jobs is going to be zero jobs," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

As usual, Republicans are dictating the conversation, this time massaging their response to the president's jobs bill to support their assertion that his $787 billion stimulus package was a failure.

And each day Obama avoids saying the word, he inadvertently gives their claims credibility by appearing to distance himself from his initiative.

Instead of using equivocal language, the president just needs to reclaim the word "stimulus." And he needs to do it now as he tries to sell his jobs bill to the public. After all, it's not like anyone's forgotten the word or the 2009 measure he pushed through Congress. Might as well talk about its successes and shortcomings while trying to help out-of-work Americans, as opposed to being forced to do so in the general election, where such talk will be interpreted as simply trying to help himself.

Besides, the truth is the administration's projections were overly optimistic and failed to meet the president's own mark of keeping the unemployment rate under 8%. Not to mention by its very spending structure, the impact of the stimulus package was not even designed to be felt by the majority of Americans quickly, which may have been wise fiscally but not so politically.

However, even with all of that, for anyone to characterize the stimulus package as a complete failure means he or she either had no idea just how bad the country's economy was or they're just parroting partisan talking points. (Between May 1999 and May 2009, private-sector jobs increased by just 1.1%, the lowest 10-year period since the Depression.)

And I can't help but notice how the chatty Republicans' tongues are tied when it comes to mentioning the 750,000 jobs that were lost on average in the first three months of 2009, during which the stimulus took effect and how that number declined to 35,000 by the beginning of 2010?

And am I the only one who finds it strange that Republican leadership wants to deem the stimulus a failure but fails to mention the studies performed by economists across the political spectrum that credit the stimulus for staving off a depression.

And then there's front-runner Perry calling the president's stimulus package a failure during Monday's debate while not mentioning how he used $6 billion from the first "failed" stimulus package to balance his state's budget. Not sure what they call that in Texas, but in the Midwest we call that hypocrisy.

Maybe I'm just being silly for letting the facts get in the way of a good campaign slogan. Perhaps I'm a bit naive to think the GOP should actually point out the stimulus pros with the cons in hopes of finding a more perfect solution to the country's economic woes.

In any case, it seems Obama's strategy of trying to pass a jobs stimulus package without saying the word "stimulus" just makes talking about the bill more difficult than it has to be. And if he continues to let undecided voters believe the first stimulus package was unsuccessful, what's their motivation for getting behind him and pressuring their representatives to pass the second?

Or even vote for him?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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