By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2009; 10:19 AM

Well, Barack Obama looked a lot happier than Alex Rodriguez.

Less than an hour after a glum-looking A-Rod faced the music at a news conference, repeatedly apologizing for his past use of steroids, the president yesterday delivered a strikingly upbeat speech in Denver about his gigantic stimulus package, which also seems steroids-infused.

The president, like the Yankee star, had his share of errors while muscling the legislation through. And yes, the Dow was down 260 as Obama spoke.

But he seemed almost liberated as he talked up the law's benefits, as if it were a relief not to have to warn about the coming catastrophe if the bill wasn't passed, or to hack away to get Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins on board.

Or maybe he's just tired of the gloom and doom he's been spreading lately.

The president got the thing passed with just three Republican votes, as everyone knows, but it's in his political interest now to sell it as something that's going to benefit the whole country in all kinds of ways. Hey, if a politician can't tout the benefits that $787 billion can bring, he ought to find a new line of work.

It did seem a trifle odd that Obama waited three days to sign the emergency legislation, but the truth is, not a dollar would have been spent over a holiday weekend. And politically, the White House wanted to stage the event out in the Real America.

When he was touting the Pelosi-Reid bill, Obama focused almost exclusively on how many jobs would be created or "saved." (That's going to be hard to measure, and in any case will probably not offset the number of jobs that disappear in the teeth of this recession). And he had to play defense against GOP attacks on spending to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and resodding the Mall. But now that it's on the books, he is starting to emphasize what the measure will mean for health care and renewable energy.

As just one example, the measure doubles the Education Department's budget, and the new secretary, Arne Duncan, has $100 billion to hand out. Had this happened by itself, it would have been a huge story. With this bill, it's a sidebar.

Conservatives believe that many of these budget boosts will be impossible to remove after two years, even if the recession has subsided. And it's true that there will be the inevitable stories about "cutbacks" if Congress tries to revert to more normal funding levels. So framing the debate, and the standards for measuring success, is vital for both sides.

Atlantic's Marc Ambinder makes an observation that is hard to dispute:

"Don't know if anybody has yet noticed in the Republican Party but President Obama was presented last week a major talking point for 2012 . . . one of the largest tax cuts in history.

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