Michael Grunwald is a Time senior correspondent. He has won the George Polk Award for national reporting, the Worth Bingham Award for investigative reporting, and many other prizes. The Washington Post called his first book, The Swamp, “a brilliant work of research and reportage,” and the New York Times called him “a terrific writer.” His new book is The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.
From the author's Q & A with David Plotz at Slate:
Slate: What possessed you to write this book?The Page 69 Test: The Swamp.
Grunwald: I fled Washington for the public policy paradise of South Beach while writing my last book, about the Everglades and Florida, so in 2010 I was only vaguely aware of the Beltway consensus that President Obama’s stimulus was an $800 billion joke. But because I write a lot about the environment, I was very aware that the stimulus included about $90 billion for clean energy, which was astonishing, because the feds were only spending a few billion dollars a year before. The stimulus was pouring unprecedented funding into wind, solar, and other renewables; energy efficiency in every form; advanced biofuels; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; cleaner coal; and factories to make all that green stuff in the U.S.
It was clearly a huge deal. And it got me curious about what else was in the stimulus. I remember doing some dogged investigative reporting—OK, a Google search—and learning that the stimulus also launched Race to the Top, which was a real a-ha moment. I knew Race to the Top was a huge deal in the education reform world, but I had no idea it was a stimulus program. It quickly became obvious that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the formal name of the stimulus) was also a huge deal for health care, transportation, scientific research, and the safety net as well as the flailing economy. It was about Reinvestment as well as Recovery, and it was hidden in plain view.
So I decided to do a piece for Time about this untold story. But my editors thought I was nuts. The stimulus was old news. Unemployment was 9 percent; what else was there to say? I actually flew up to New York to make my case. I told my bosses I felt like a reporter in 1938, trying to convince them to do a story on this initiative called “The New Deal.” They looked at me like I was that blogger in The Newsroom pitching his story on Bigfoot. To...[read on]