Steve Coll is a fearless journalist, going deep into territory that many deem impenetrable. I refer, of course, to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a.k.a. the stimulus bill. He’s reading every page of it and blogging about it for The New Yorker.
I came in [LAUGHS] on a Monday morning and I was full of vim, and I thought, well, I ought to print this bill out and read it. And I was reminded of some other blogging that I'd read and been inspired by, by a guy named David Plotz at Slate, who had blogged the entire Bible by reading it cold, and it had been very funny and very interesting.
But he was dealing with source material that is filled with drama and tragedy and morality. And you were starting with a Stimulus bill.
Right, and I figured that out soon enough. At first I thought, well, the wonkiness of it, the actual material will be sufficient to generate interest, and then I pretty quickly discovered that wasn't the case. So I decided that the only way to do it was to treat it as a travelogue – to see the landscape of the federal government as illuminated by our Congress and its decisions in the Stimulus bill.
And then there are obscure corners of our government that you encounter through this travel that you realize, just reading the text, are occupied by an entire subculture of specialists [BOB LAUGHS] who, for [LAUGHS] many years, unexamined, have been going about their work. And just to contemplate what it is they do and what they're now going to do with a billion extra dollars has been interesting.
Now, we've discussed this project as being Plotzian in nature, but it also is kind of a throwback to I.F. Stone, who always spoke of how close reading government documents enables you to find hidden stories with great drama. What have you discovered that you think fits into that category?
he bill is kind of a pastiche of theories about how to spend the government money not only to jolt the economy but to create a different political economy after the recession is over.