Posted by Rojas @ 1:14 pm on June 5th 2008

FDR lives

I find my nightmares changing as the campaign wears on.

My old anti-Obama vision was one in which he played the role of a 21st-century Jimmy Carter. The paralells were apparent; facing an incumbency that had grown corrupt and stale, Carter cultivated an impression of honor, ethics, and trustworthiness and rode it to the Presidency. Yet Carter, for all of his native intelligence, was undone by a lack of understanding of the Washington machine, and in the end the rising expectations that he’d engendered turned against him when he proved incapable of knowing which levers to pull to achieve the results he sought.

There is still, I suppose, some prospect of that scenario unfolding. But I’m now more worried about an alternative possibility. What if Obama isn’t Jimmy Carter, but Franklin Roosevelt?

Roosevelt’s 1932 election was most directly attributable to an economic crisis of epic proportions. We are facing nothing similar at the moment–the economy grew last quarter–but the perception of crisis remains. Swept into office alongside a wave of his party cohorts, with no checks upon their power whatsoever, Roosevelt effectively established the modern mindset that turns to the federal government as the solution to all problems. I still consider his Presidency to be the most disastrous, in terms of its long-term consequences, of the twentieth century. He set in motion the entitlement mentality that threatens to effectively end American global hegemony.

Obama, should he be elected President, can certainly expect to head up a Democratic majority of Rooseveltian proportions. It is, of course, quite reasonable to relish the prospect of Republic electoral annihilation. The question we ought to be asking, however, is exactly how high a price we’re willing to pay for it.

Obama has, if anything, moved further to the economic left as the campaign has gone on. Even after formally eliminating Hillary, Obama’s St. Paul speech was chock full of goodies, handouts, and entitlements of all kinds–universal health care, expanded funding for NCLB, massive subsidies for “green collar” jobs programs and massively expanded agricultural subsidies for biofuels, to name just a few. He has coopted John Edwards’ aggressively federalized antipoverty agenda, and appears to be in the process of absorbing Hillary Clinton’s health care plan–including possibly the woman herself as Secretary of HHS. The Goolsbee-inspired free market approach to these problems has long since been ditched as a talking point. “The Change We Need” is now to be seen as a restoration–if it ever went away–of a full-on welfare state.

Nor, really, is there any prospect of paying for this stuff with a peace dividend. Obama now portrays the abandonment of the Iraq adventure not as a means to bring troops home but as a means to double down in Afghanistan and elsewhere. His supporters on the left are making noise about intervention in places like Burma.

Brad, along with Andrew Sullivan and occasionally myself, have argued that massive spending is off the table as an issue in the coming election for the simple reason that it couldn’t get any worse than it has under Bush. I am increasingly unconvinced that this is true. First off, the budget deficit is only a small part of my objection. Obama’s restoration of Johnsonian or Rooseveltian social programs would reinforce and intensify the public belief that federal intervention is the preferable remedy to economic problems, and that redistribution of wealth is a desirable goal of government action. Even if these goals were pursued in a revenue-neutral fashion–and I would place a sizable bet that they wouldn’t be–they would still be undesirable in themselves.

Secondly, Obama’s particular means of spending away the next generation’s money aren’t going to be a replacement for Bush’s means. They’re going to be an addition to them. You do not hear Obama talking about actually UNDOING the budgetary disasters of the Bush administration such as Medicare Part B. His “green collar” panacea involves exactly the same federal handouts and market-skewing for the benefit of favored corporations that have larded the Bush budgets. Rhetoric about “closing tax loopholes” as a means of paying for all of this doesn’t even rise to the level of argument.

A massive Democratic majority in both houses of Congress appears certain. The question we need to be asking ourselves is whether we want unchecked Democratic rule, under a charismatic leader who will likely be capable of turning the most farfetched liberal economic fantasies into federal legislation. Entitlement and jobs programs, once enacted, are virtually impossible to remove; we are STILL paying for rural electrification and the TVA today, seventy years after their enaction, demonstrating that some kinds of change never happen no matter HOW much we believe in them.

John McCain is not going to deregulate the economy or embark on a Reaganesque quest for a restoration of individual economic liberty. What he CAN be counted on to do is not make the entitlement mentality any worse, including through veto if necessary. McCain’s vociferous objections to agricultural subsidies and to budget earmarks may not in and of themselves point the way to a balanced budget, but that’s not the point. They bespeak a governing ideology that rejects government transfers of wealth and market micromanagement.

Whatever other roles John McCain may or may not be suited for, he might prove highly valuable as a speed bump.


  1. Can we throw out some numbers here? Back of the envelope stuff?

    Comment by daveg — 6/5/2008 @ 1:37 pm

  2. That is, compare McCain’s proposals with Obama’s INCLUDING military spending.

    Oh, and did the government grow faster until Clinton or Bush? The Deficit?

    Republicans are living that Irish proverb, “He who has a reputation as an early riser can sleep until noon.”

    Comment by daveg — 6/5/2008 @ 1:40 pm

  3. Well spoken.

    This has been my exact worry since the NAFTA fiasco. My earlier hopes of a Clintion-esque, New Labor shift headed by Obama have been dashed. It has driven me firmly into the McCain camp.

    I still have a lingering hope that Obama is actually more of a fiscal conservative than he has campaigning as. However, I am uncomfortable supporting him on a hope.

    Comment by Cameron — 6/5/2008 @ 1:43 pm

  4. I like FDR

    Comment by Mark — 6/5/2008 @ 1:43 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.