U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk's latest exaggeration -- that he convinced the entire Republican Party to vote against the stimulus package -- is just as absurd as his resume embellishments.
It's been a rough few months for U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk.
Since winning the GOP's U.S. Senate primary, the candidate has been caught needlessly and repeatedly embellishing his resume: asserting falsely that the U.S. Navy once named him "intelligence officer of the year," that he came under enemy fire (or even served) in Iraq, that he "deployed" to Afghanistan while serving in Congress, that he never conducted partisan political activities while on active Navy duty, that he "commanded" the Pentagon war room, and that he taught in a dangerous middle school after completing college.
The local media, which has given him favorable coverage over the years, jumped all over the candidate's "hubris" and called out his defensive rebuttal that the embellishments were careless and accidental. Some went so far as to question if the North Shore Republican is fundamentally honest. Others dug through his history of false radio claims. Kirk responded by telling reporters he wouldn't discuss his resume going forward.
His opponent, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, pounced on the opportunity by releasing a series of ads focused on Kirk's integrity. The campaign was buffeted by multiple media watchdogs, who criticized several misleading advertisements produced by the Kirk camp. And now voters are starting to sour on the congressman, as well.
Did Kirk learn his lesson from the serial exaggeration controversy? Will he rein in his ego as the campaign climaxes? It appears not.
In an interview published yesterday by the Olney Daily Mail, Kirk took full credit for the Republican's stimulus opposition:
Kirk said that on the day of Obama’s inauguration, Pelosi introduced a bill for the stimulus package. He said he canceled his plans that day, “pulled an all-nighter” and read the bill. The next day he issued a memo to Republicans of “why the stimulus won’t work.”
“Every Republican voted against the stimulus off that,” he said.
Essentially, Kirk is inferring that without his serious analytical work on the night of the inauguration, the entire Republican caucus was going to vote in lock-step for President Obama's first legislative priority. This is, to be frank, absurd. Kirk's memo might have convinced a few moderates to bail on the President's approach, but the anti-stimulus party line was established long before Kirk dug into the package's details.
Take this article, published by The Southern on January 21, 2009 at 12 a.m. The interviews for the piece, presumably, were conducted on January 20, the day of the inauguration. And Illinois Republicans John Shimkus and Tim Johnson both expressed grave reservations about the bill ... before reading Kirk's analysis. "If the rumors are as we're hearing," Shimkus told the paper, "I think you can expect me to vote no."
The GOP's opposition to deficit spending didn't start in January, either. In the fall of 2008, months before President Obama was elected, Democrats tried to push through a stimulus package that would have repaired roads and extended federal unemployment benefits, among other things. Republican leaders, including then-Presidential nominee John McCain, expressed no interest in that bill. The economic recovery package, they argued, was wasteful and unnecessary. Kirk did not need to convince his party members of that point. Instead, the GOP bashed Democrats for loose spending while developing their own tax cut proposal to stimulate the rich.
It should be noted that the approach Kirk advocated for was wrong. Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton professor and former vice chairman of the Fed, and Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, just published a study concluding that the stimulus plan helped prevent a second Great Depression. If Congress followed Kirk's advice, who knows what Illinois' unemployment rate would look like today.
Here's the Giannoulias campaign's response to Kirk's admission, which focused on the politics of the GOP's opposition:
But the reality is that the Republican Party's decision to oppose the President's economic recovery effort, misguided as it was, had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with Congressman Kirk's magic memo. It has come to the point where Illinois voters simply cannot trust a word Congressman Kirk says."
It's hard to argue with that.