Commentary: It's time for us to build on success of stimulus

The U.S. economy grew by an astounding 5.9 percent rate in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to the revised gross domestic product reading, the broadest measure of economic activity.

In normal times, such fast growth might be seen as too much of a good thing, sparking economist fears of inflation. But these aren't normal times, which is why that positive news barely made a ripple in the media's daily narrative.

By any objective measure, it is a strong sign about the resiliency of our economy. Between the first quarter when we lost 750,000 jobs in January and GDP dropped 6.4 percent to the final quarter of last year, our economy experienced a 12.3 percentage point turnaround. It should be cause for celebration.

Not only that, but the White House, most Democrats and three Republicans pushed through a stimulus package that has created at least 1 million jobs. According to Politifact.com, the political fact-check Web site, independent analysts have determined the range of jobs saved or created range from 1 million to 2 million. The Congressional Budget Office puts the number between 800,000 and 2.4million jobs.

What's more, the bill's approach — a combination of tax cuts and spending — was the best route, a bevy of economists told the New York Times, even though some Republicans wanted only tax cuts and some Democrats wanted only spending. The stimulus package, along with aggressive action by the Federal Reserve and other measures, kept us out of a second great depression. That accomplishment probably won't receive its due until historians revisit the issue decades from now when the political atmosphere might be less poisonous.

Few want to admit that the U.S. Congress showed rare political courage and foresight by passing such a vital but highly unpopular piece of legislation.

Few recognize that political courage because the national unemployment rate sits at 9.7 percent and may have risen last month. Millions were laid off throughout the country and are still hurting economically. Foreclosures broke records. Wages are stagnant. Home values have plummeted and may not return to "normal" levels for years.

Locally, our largest annual job fair has been put on ice because the dearth of jobs and an over-abundance of people looking for work made it unnecessary in an area with an unemployment rate near 15 percent.

Those competing economic realities — government intervention that created at least 1 million jobs so far and produced billions of dollars in unanticipated interest payments for taxpayers from bailed-out banks versus the harsh financial conditions being experienced by too many of us — are being spun by both major political parties.

Those realities also illustrate why the term "limited government" is redundant. There is a role for government, but it can do only so much. Washington politicians could show more courage by giving voice to a harsh truism: That the Senate's recently passed $15billion jobs bill can't be a panacea in a national economy that can be slowed by snowstorms and debt worries in Greece.

The government was big enough to pull us from the brink of economic collapse. It's not powerful enough to pull us back into good times.

That's our job. We won't be up to the task until we shake off the doldrums and put American ingenuity back to work by creating a new economy for ourselves and others.