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Soft-peddling the stimulus

Officially, it was a feel-good event focused on the future, jobs and the new global marketplace.

Maryland was getting a big federal contract, flowing from Washington’s $4 billion, now semi-toxic American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The source in this year of antigovernment animus had to be veiled. “Stimulus” — shorthand for the act that held off another Depression — had to be whispered if mentioned at all.

In any other year, the grant would have been the subject of unrestrained ballyhoo. This year, though, the Tea Party and others say it’s a dirty word.

Still, if you are a Democratic incumbent and you have delivered the bacon, you wanted people to know it.

Thus did announcing the grant serve as an unofficial kickoff for Campaign 2010 in Maryland.

A big deal

The grant was actually a big deal.

Maryland will get $115 million to enhance broadband capability from the mountains to the shore. Every county is to be included in what was called the One Maryland Broadband Network. Its power will touch 2 million households, 443,000 businesses, 44 libraries, 458 schools and 262 public safety operations — more than 1,000 so-called anchor institutions.

How, one was expected to ask, could such a thing have happened without Democratic elected officials? Would the voters, driven by anti-incumbency angst, like to forgo benefits that flow from such an effective group of incumbent lawmakers?

Everything was in place to make the point. Everything and more. Yes, it was big government that kicked in the dough, but — the Democrats were at pains to say repeatedly — Maryland had won the money in a tough competition with other states.

This sensitivity stems from the view that Washington is generous beyond its means. Yes, but t his is different: Hard work and foresight lay at the bottom of this bonanza.

Most of the state’s virtually all-Democratic congressional delegation was on hand for the announcement at the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood.

“Broadband,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, “is the information superhighway we need to bring the jobs of tomorrow to Maryland.”

The key word

“Jobs,” of course, was the key word.

Said Gov. Martin O’Malley: “This infrastructure will not only pave the way for the future of high-speed Internet service in our state, but will expand economic opportunities, create jobs, increase our ability to provide public safety and health services, and strengthen our small-business communities.”

Reading carefully, we are meant to see that this is not a social program. This is a way to keep pace with the global economy. Without this system, Maryland business, Maryland education and daily life in Maryland, would be diminished, falling back — unable to compete in a sped-up marketplace.

“Rebuilding our economy is going to start with re-creating our economy,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, “and it will be recreated in the information sectors.”

Everything these Democratic public officials said last week about a $115 million federal grant seemed indisputable. Senator Mikulski has pushed for the upgrade for years. A new generation of county executives — Ken Ulman of Howard County was key in the planning — badly wanted the new cyber power.

What state wouldn’t have wanted this grant? Of course there was celebrating.

One looks at such a ceremony with its politically correct choreography and wonders what force may be at work in Election 2010.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His e-mail address is fsmith@wypr.org.