Obama's Ultimate Agenda, Charles Krauthammer, Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2009.
Five minutes of explanation to James Madison, and he'll have a pretty good idea what a motorcar is (basically a steamboat on wheels; the internal combustion engine might take a few minutes more). Then try to explain to Madison how the Constitution he fathered allows the president to unilaterally guarantee the repair or replacement of every component of millions of such contraptions sold in the several states, and you will leave him slack-jawed.
In fact, we are now so deep into government intervention that constitutional objections are summarily swept aside. The last Treasury secretary brought the nine largest banks into his office and informed them that henceforth he was their partner. His successor is seeking the power to seize any financial institution at his own discretion. Despite these astonishments, I remain more amused than alarmed. First, the notion of presidential car warranties strikes me as simply too bizarre, too comical, to mark the beginning of Yankee Peronism.
Second, there is every political incentive to make these interventions in the banks and autos temporary and circumscribed. For President Obama, autos and banks are sideshows. Enormous sideshows, to be sure, but had the financial meltdown and the looming auto bankruptcies not been handed to him, he would hardly have gone seeking to be the nation's car and credit czar.
Obama has far different ambitions. His goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation's income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax. Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission.
Fairness through leveling is the essence of Obamaism. (Asked by Charlie Gibson during a campaign debate about his support for raising capital gains taxes -- even if they caused a net revenue loss to the government -- Obama stuck to the tax hike "for purposes of fairness.") The elements are highly progressive taxation, federalized health care and higher education, and revenue-producing energy controls. But first he must deal with the sideshows. They could sink the economy and poison his public support before he gets to enact his real agenda. The big sideshows, of course, are the credit crisis, which Obama has contracted out to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and the collapse of the U.S. automakers, which Obama seems to have taken on for himself. That was a tactical mistake. Better to have let the car companies go directly to Chapter 11 and have a judge mete out the bitter medicine to the workers and bondholders.
By sacking GM's CEO, packing the new board, and giving direction as to which brands to drop and what kind of cars to make, Obama takes ownership of General Motors. He may soon come to regret it. He has now gotten himself so entangled in the car business that he is personally guaranteeing your muffler. (Upon reflection, a job best left to the congenitally unmuffled Joe Biden.) Some find in this descent into large-scale industrial policy a whiff of 1930s-style fascist corporatism. I have my doubts. These interventions are rather targeted. They involve global financial institutions that even the Bush administration decided had to be nationalized, and auto companies that themselves came begging to the government for money.
Bizarre and constitutionally suspect as these interventions may be, the transformation of the American system will come from elsewhere. The credit crisis will pass and the auto overcapacity will sort itself out one way or the other. The reordering of the American system will come not from these temporary interventions, into which Obama has reluctantly waded. It will come from Obama's real agenda: his holy trinity of health care, education and energy. Out of these will come a radical extension of the welfare state, social and economic leveling in the name of fairness, and a massive increase in the size, scope and reach of government.
If Obama has his way, the change that is coming is a new America: "fair," leveled and social democratic. Obama didn't get elected to warranty your muffler. He's here to warranty your life.
Text Source: Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2009.
Image Source: French Airbus Crash--Full Throttle With The Brakes On
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Obama's Domestic Agenda Gains Clarity: A certain grandiosity contrasts with his steady hand on foreign affairs, Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2008
Barack Obama was elected in part because of his singularity. There was no one like him. He was a break with the past, not only because of his youth and race but also his cerebral bent, his cool demeanor. He seemed free of the partisan muck. He was hard to categorize because we didn't have categories for him. This was part of his power. It denied his foes purchase; they didn't know how to get at him. It allowed others to project on his canvas. After the thickly drawn George W. Bush, he seemed something refreshing: a mystery.
APHe has been criticized in the past for not being philosophically clear, but Mr. Obama possesses the canny knowledge that in modern politics, clarity can sometimes get in your way. You don't always want to shoot arrows that pierce; sometimes it's better to be a great enveloping fog, something your enemies get lost in.
The big thing that has happened the past few weeks is that he's become more sharply defined. Actions and decisions clarify, and he's been quite the decider.
In foreign affairs he has shown the impulses of a moderate: watching (Iran), waiting (Iraq), beefing up (Afghanistan), standing down (the nomination of Charles Freeman as National Intelligence Council chairman, which brought more drama than he wanted). His attitude at this week's summit was one of welcome modesty, which might or might not have tipped into a mea culpa (he agreed that America bears great responsibility for the world economic meltdown, and that some previous U.S. foreign policy attitudes have been poor). Or perhaps that's a you-a culpa.
In any case, his freshness and persona probably contributed to the fact that the predictable riots, while anticapitalist and antiglobalist, were not in their focus anti-American. This was a welcome relief. It won't last forever, and let's enjoy it while we can. Michelle Obama enjoyed a well-deserved triumph, representing her country with grace and elegance. She continued to signal a secret conservatism by demonstrating support for the right to bare arms. I very much wish that were my joke and not that of the editor Jason Epstein.
In domestic affairs, however, in the economy, Mr. Obama's actions since February have left him not so much more deeply defined as tagged. They can arguably be understood not as a conglomeration of moderate impulses but an expression of a kind of grandiosity. He thinks big! His plans are all-encompassing! There is so much busyness, and so much spending, that journalists have been in an unofficial race to keep track of the flurry of numbers. From Bloomberg News this week: "The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent or lent or committed $12.8 trillion" in new pledges. This they note is almost the value of everything the United States produced last year. The price tag comes to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.
I happened to be rereading the economics section of Mr. Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope," when I read the Bloomberg story. He scores President Bush for contributing to a national debt that amounted to a $30,000 bill for each American. Those were the days!
The tagging was done, definitively, by an increasingly impressive (because unusually serious and sincere) member of the U.S. Senate, who happens also to be Mr. Obama's friend. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, has been close with the Illinois Democrat since their Senate orientation in 2004; he's the man the president hugged after his big joint sessions speech last month. Thursday, in a column on RealClearPolitics.com, Mr. Coburn wrote, "I believe President Obama has proposed the most significant shift toward collectivism and away from capitalism in the history of our republic. I believe his budget aspires to not merely promote economic recovery but to lay the groundwork for sweeping expansions of government authority in areas like health care, energy and even daily commerce. If handled poorly, I'm concerned this budget could turn our government into the world's largest health care provider, mortgage bank or car dealership, among other things."
To be defined in this way is not just a negative for Mr. Obama in terms of its criticism, it amounts to being robbed, by a friend, of the vagueness that was part of his power. Mr. Coburn was all the more deadly for being fair-minded: he was tough on both parties as operating in a crisis from "scripts," with Democrats saying everything is Bush's fault and Republicans decrying high spending and taxing while failing to abjure earmarks and admit what must be cut.
The great long-term question about Mr. Obama's economic program, the great political question, is: Is this what the people want? There are economists who believe, and who make a reasonable case, that more money is needed to get the credit system, now frozen like icebergs, flowing in warm streams again. But in terms of leaps in the size of government, including a new health-care system, and higher deficits, and increased borrowing, and debt—in terms of the sheer scope and size of what is being planned—one simply wonders: Is this what the people want?
Different pollsters offer different data. The Washington Post this week put the president's approval ratings at 60% or higher; the Washington Times had a Zogby poll saying Mr. Obama's popularity has dipped below 50%; in this paper, the pollsters Douglas Schoen and Scott Rasmussen said the American people "are coming to express increasingly significant doubts about his initiatives," and placed the president's approval rating at 56%, "with substantial polarization."
That last qualification certainly sounds true. So does the assertion that there's a gulf between the president's popularity and the popularity of his programs. Messrs. Schoen and Rasmussen had 83% of respondents saying his programs will not work, 82% saying they're worried about the deficit, 78% worried about inflation, and 69% worried about the increasing role of the government in the economy.
This is a hard time to be president. The questions and issues that arise, their depth, complexity and implications, amount to an almost daily parade of horribles. There is considerable goodwill for the president, and all the polls show considerable support—half the nation in a time of sustained crisis is not a small thing—but one wonders for the first time if Mr. Obama's support isn't becoming, in the old phrase, a mile wide and an inch deep. Something has been lost in terms of fervor when one talks to Obama supporters. There is little of the spirit that led FDR's supporters, for instance, in another great economic crisis, to put signs in their front windows supporting the National Recovery Act. We were a younger country then, and the two crises are not completely comparable, but there's a lot of wait-and-see out there. There's also a growing divide observable between the American establishment—of both parties—and the rank and file of Americans living normal, non-politically-obsessed lives. The latter seem more patient, more forgiving toward the president. The former, the establishment—again, in both parties—now commonly voice grave doubts as to his domestic ambitions.
Mr. Obama had a strong closing news conference in Europe, and it looks to have been a successful trip, marked at the end by an air of relative and surprising G-20 unity. The president will get some bounce from it, as they say, and it may be considerable. But then the Europe trip speaks of the part of his administration, foreign affairs, that is marked by an air of moderation, not the part involving ambitions that are grand to the point of grandiosity.
Text Source: Wall Street Journal April 3, 2009
Cartoon Source: Cagle, MSNBC