Is Obama A Radical?

The meme of the week was that all of the woes of Wall Street could be laid at the feet of the Obama budget. It was vilified far and wide as too big, anti-capital, pro-labor — throw in any bromide you care for.

I doubt that the budget was all that determinative with respect to the week’s events but I don’t doubt that as presented the document represents a blueprint for a radical reformation of the American experience. With that in mind I’d like to direct you to three opinions on what was presented.

The first comes from Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. He is no liberal but I like him very much because he is not an ideologue. Reality is the currency he trades in.

The logic of Obama’s address to Congress went like this:

“Our economy did not fall into decline overnight,” he averred. Indeed, it all began before the housing crisis. What did we do wrong? We are paying for past sins in three principal areas: energy, health care and education — importing too much oil and not finding new sources of energy (as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf?), not reforming health care, and tolerating too many bad schools.

The “day of reckoning” has arrived. And because “it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament,” Obama has come to redeem us with his far-seeing program of universal, heavily nationalized health care; a cap-and-trade tax on energy; and a major federalization of education with universal access to college as the goal.

Amazing. As an explanation of our current economic difficulties, this is total fantasy. As a cure for rapidly growing joblessness, a massive destruction of wealth, a deepening worldwide recession, this is perhaps the greatest non sequitur ever foisted upon the American people.

And he ends his opinion piece with this:

Clever politics, but intellectually dishonest to the core. Health, education and energy — worthy and weighty as they may be — are not the cause of our financial collapse. And they are not the cure. The fraudulent claim that they are both cause and cure is the rhetorical device by which an ambitious president intends to enact the most radical agenda of social transformation seen in our lifetime.

Pretty strong stuff. Let’s move on to Clive Crook who has a milder view.

Barack Obama’s first budget is a revelation. The US president’s plans will not come to pass in the form he suggests. Congress writes the laws and will make a hash of it. Still, this first full statement of intentions speaks volumes, and leaves me in a paradoxical position. On one hand, I admire much of what the budget says. On the other, I feel I owe Republicans an apology.

As you recall, in the debate over the fiscal stimulus, Republicans accused the president of presenting a measure they could not support, disguising this with an empty show of co-operation. Bipartisanship, they said, is more than inviting your opponents round for coffee and a chat. I did not buy it: I accused them, in effect, of brainless rejectionism and a refusal to compromise, and congratulated the president for trying to come to terms with the other side.

This budget says the Republicans had Mr Obama right all along. The draft contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.

Here is his summation:

For years in the US, the Democratic left, despite a surfeit of brilliant minds, has neutered itself with its own rage. The fixed expression of progressive liberalism has been anger and contempt – with perplexity at its lack of political success mixed in for comic effect. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Amid an economic crisis, with capitalism under fire and the country looking to government for answers, the liberal left finally has a leader with brains, who shares its convictions, yet is as friendly and as likeable to the politically uncommitted as anyone could wish – so appealing, in fact, that the party almost chose somebody else to lead it.

Whether Mr Obama will be good for the country remains to be seen. We can already be sure that he is conservatism’s worst nightmare.

Roger Cohen writing in the New York Times said:

Don’t get me wrong, I think President Obama’s counter-revolution goes in the right direction. In fact, it’s less a question of right and wrong with his budget than of necessity. After the excesses of Reagan-inspired deregulation and the disaster that unfettered markets have delivered, the pendulum had to swing.

Still, the $3.6 trillion Obama budget made me a little queasy. There is a touch of France in its “étatisme” — the state as all-embracing solution rather than problem — and there’s more than a touch of France in the bash-the-rich righteousness with which the new president cast his plans as “a threat to the status quo in Washington.”

And here is his conclusion:

Romney’s got it upside-down. The Republicans under Bush destroyed the American economy and what America stood for in the world. But that does not change the fact that Obama, in his restorative counter-revolution, must be careful to steer clear of his French temptation.

Greek tragedy holds that hubris, or overweening pride, leads inexorably to nemesis, divine judgment and at the last may usher in utter destruction. The United States is in full post-Bush nemesis. In its core values, un-Gallicized, lies the long road to redemption.

As these three men point out, it is a matter of fact not speculation that President Obama has a vision of America that is decidedly liberal. He meant what he said on the campaign trail and he does not intend to wait for economic events to improve to begin enacting his agenda. And his formidable gifts may allow him to get very far towards his goal.

Personally, I would prefer more rounding of rough edges as opposed to the revolution that he proposes. Whether or not that preference is representative of the American electorate, I don’t know. I suspect not. Too many feel disenfranchised, left out. The allure of the gold (fools gold?) he offers may be irresistible. The man, the times and the mood may be perfectly aligned.

I hope he has read Roger Cohen’s article. The gentle warnings contained there are well worth his consideration. I suspect that he has not and that even if he did they would not dissuade him.

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