Obama’s New Old Deal

posted at 11:55 am on December 6, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Barack Obama announced the creation of a massive new public-works program aimed at updating the nation’s infrastructure while creating millions of jobs.  This comes as no surprise, as Obama and Joe Biden talked constantly about resurrecting the least-successful elements of FDR’s New Deal as an answer to the current economic crisis.  The new administration won’t just contain itself to roads, either:

President-elect Barack Obama added sweep and meat to his economic agenda on Saturday, pledging the largest new investment in roads and bridges since President Dwight D. Eisenhower built the Interstate system in the late 1950s, and tying his key initiatives – education, energy, health care –back to jobs in a package that has the makings of a smaller and modern version of FDR’s New Deal marriage of job creation with infrastructure upgrades.

The president-elect also said for the first time that he will “launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen.”

“We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms,” he said in the address.

The president-elect is bringing new elements of his domestic agenda into his economic recovery plan, committing to a path toward giving every American access to an electronic medical record as part of an “economic recovery plan … that won’t just save jobs, it will save lives.”

Obama invokes both FDR and Eisenhower in his new program.  Ike built the interstate highway system in the 1950s as a national-defense measure, which most people forget today.  The grid of north-south and east-west highways and bridges didn’t get built as a jobs program, but as a way to ensure that American military equipment could move rapidly to the borders of the nation in case of attack.  It had the salutory side effect of enhancing mobility for Americans, most of whom only had one generation of car ownership at the time.

The key difference between Ike and Obama is that America could afford that public works project, and its need went further than creating public-sector jobs for political purposes.  We hadn’t sunk ourselves into tens of trillions in future entitlement liabilities or trillions of existing debt from previous public-works projects.  We faced an existential threat from the rise of Communist nations who had already begun invading other nations to expand their sphere of influence.  Eisenhower saw how critical roads and bridges had been in Europe during the war and wanted to ensure that America was prepared for the worst.

Now, with the federal government deep in debt, unwilling to address an entitlement disaster, and throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at private enterprises in a vain attempt to rescue them from their own bad management and labor practices, Obama wants to create a new WPA to renew American infrastructure not because it’s needed as much as Obama needs to ensure his re-election.

The original WPA should serve as an object lesson for us now.  It was bureaucratic, inefficient, and since it served mainly as a work-to-welfare program, had almost no way of disciplining its employees to improve production.  The massive resources it ate could have been much more efficiently utilized by the private sector, which could have produced higher-quality work at a lower price.  That has been the lesson of privatization in infrastructure that we have seen in Minnesota with the St. Anthony Bridge project and the rebuilding of Southern California freeways and overpasses after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Furthermore, Obama’s plan falls outside the scope of government in a big way.  The federal government should work on interstate highways and its bridges, and state governments should remain responsible for their transportation infrastructure.  However, it’s not the government’s business to order health-care providers to put medical records on the Internet.  In the first place, many of them already do — mine included — due to pressure from consumers to provide the service.  It didn’t take Obama, a village, or a government bureaucracy to demand it.  Second, some people may not want their medical records on the Internet, which is why my provider has it as an opt-in program.

None of this comes as a great shock, though.  While Obama has given some indications that he doesn’t intend a massive shift to the Left on defense and foreign policy, his economic plans have always favored statism, class warfare, and a striking ignorance of history and reality.  Recreating the WPA and proposing even more massive spending programs in the face of our precarious financial condition and debt load finds its equivalent only perhaps in the apocryphal fiddling of Nero while Rome burned.

Update: Nick Allen says that national debt as a percentage of GDP was significantly higher under Ike than now, but that’s not quite true.  Gross national debt as a percentage of GDP was at 71.3% at the beginning of Ike’s term, but it was a debt mostly due to the costs of World War II and the Korean War, and it was already descending.  By the time Ike proposed the interstate highway system (1956), it had dropped to 63.8%, and by the end of Ike’s term it had declined to 56.1%.

In contrast, our gross national debt to GDP percentage is 67.5% for 2008 and estimated to rise to 69.3% in 2009 before adding this public-works program to the budget for the next four years.  (OMB report, pages 127-128)

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Just wait and see who the contract go to.

christene on December 6, 2008 at 4:04 PM


scalleywag on December 7, 2008 at 11:55 AM

You may scoff at his aspirations. But enslavemet? It’s just….lame.

DeathToMediaHacks on December 7, 2008 at 11:33

Communism is enslavement.

Johan Klaus on December 7, 2008 at 11:56 AM

Back to the good old days of the 1930’s when government was REALLY government.

notagool on December 7, 2008 at 12:08 PM

I commuted from Boston to NYC for a long time. I tried flying and the train and flying was faster. I would usually go door to door in about 3.75 hours including cab to/from airport in Boston and NY. With Acela it was usually about 4.5 hours including taking the subway to/from train station in Boston and in NY. And the train was delayed a lot more often that flights.

angryed on December 7, 2008 at 10:03 AM

I’ve found the trip from midtown Manhattan to one of the 3 airports can take anywhere from 35 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the time of day.

The train may take longer but at least you get an electrical outlet, have Internet access and can use your cell phone along the way.

dedalus on December 7, 2008 at 12:38 PM

In discussing academic performance, The One got old fashioned and would alternate:

“Parents, you are going to have to read to the kids.”


“…and parents, parents, you are going to have to turn the TV off sometimes.”

We are saved!

IlikedAUH2O on December 7, 2008 at 1:54 PM

Imma WPA worker! Where do I sign up?

lodge on December 7, 2008 at 2:20 PM

As for computer, UGH. There is this notion out there that if you give every kid a computer he magically becomes a programmer or something. Half the kids out there in schools can’t even write a sentence or do basic math. But instead of tacking that problem, we’ll give every kid a new laptop so he can be on myspace in the classroom as well as at home.


angryed on December 7, 2008 at 9:48 AM

The whole notion of giving computers as ‘edukashun’ is absurd. I was on a grant committee for the state once. What a joke. First of all, the proposals written by Phd “Edukatoors” were incoherent and flawed. The general gist was ‘give us a half mill to buy laptops for the kiddies’. The 3 other people in my group were ready to rubber stamp these proposals. They hadn’t even thought about how would support the machines much less the fact that there was NO PLAN WHATSOEVER to show how to use the computers as a learning tool, no integration with the coursework.. Nothing but “Hey give the kiddies laptops and they will be geniuses..”

bullseye on December 7, 2008 at 5:59 PM

He looks like freakin’ Erkel in that still shot.

Besides, he’s not an American citizen anyway….GET PRESIDENT O.J. outta here!

Let’s roll.

ex-Democrat on December 7, 2008 at 7:33 PM

Can you imagine of BooshChimpHitler was saying these things???


The liberal loons would be going nuts …. he’d be called—wait for it—JUDGMENTAL…..ROFL!

ex-Democrat on December 7, 2008 at 7:36 PM

OT FWIW: This was posted by a commenter at freerepublic with a link to marketwatch:

from community.marketwatch.com
Here come another of those “Guilt by Associations” that Senator Barack Obama will try to weasel himself out of. As you may know, Philip Berg is suing Senator Obama in Civil Court. Berg wants Obama to Produce his real birth certificate to prove that he meets the citizenship requirements to be President. Rather than just product the birth certificate (is he trying to hide something?) Obama’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss. One of the Lawyers filing the motion was Joe Sandler ([email protected]) of the Washington law firm Sandler, Reiff, and Young (see the document below).

If Mr. Sandler’s name sounds familiar it Should. He is the Legal Hit Man for the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR is an organization with terrorist ties, and has been as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Holyland Foundation Hamas Funding trial.

onlineanalyst on December 7, 2008 at 8:29 PM

Speaking of Obama’s deals,

Iran Rejects Obama’s Carrot and Stick Policy

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has rejected a suggestion by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama that a carrot and stick policy of economic incentives and additional sanctions might persuade the Iranian government to change its behavior.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hasan Qashqavi, said Monday that Obama’s proposed policy was unacceptable and had failed in the past.

Obama told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the international community should adopt a carrot and stick policy to alter Iran’s behavior toward its nuclear program and support for militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. He also said the U.S. should increase direct diplomacy.

The U.S. accuses Iran of using its nuclear program as a cover for weapons development — a claim denied by Tehran.

Anyone else get the impression the Iranian govt sees nothing to fear from The One.

Yakko77 on December 8, 2008 at 9:27 AM

Socialism is enslavement.

Let’s roll.

ex-Democrat on December 8, 2008 at 11:29 AM

As for computer, UGH. There is this notion out there that if you give every kid a computer he magically becomes a programmer or something. Half the kids out there in schools can’t even write a sentence or do basic math. But instead of tacking that problem, we’ll give every kid a new laptop so he can be on myspace in the classroom as well as at home.
angryed on December 7, 2008 at 9:48 AM

I teach PreCalc at a local school and last week during a derivation of a trig problem the students had to tell me what 1/2 + 2/5 equals. Without fail every single one of them reached for their calculators. I was rather annoyed and I told them,

“Put down your calculators. I’m not at all interested in whether or you not you can press buttons. If all you’re learning is how to press buttons, we can replace you with a monkey. You’re here to learn how to think and I THINK you should know how to add two fractions together if you’re in my PreCalc class. So put away your calculators. I don’t want to see you TOUCH a calculator until I tell you to. Now back to this derivation. What’s the answer? …”

PackerBronco on December 8, 2008 at 1:03 PM

Oh Dear God.
We sure are repeating the sins of the past. Why will it work this time? Bcs the Great Leader says so?
I am afraid. Truly afraid.

Future self:[trembles in dark under government mandated rolling blackouts]

Badger40 on December 8, 2008 at 5:29 PM

Maybe its just me being an anti-Lightworker Who Will Make the Seas Stop Rising and Make the World Love Us Again, but does that pic make He Whose Name Must Never Be Uttered Except in Unconditional Messianic Reverence look like a school kid sitting in Daddy’s office chair???

Mike D. on December 8, 2008 at 7:29 PM