Today in Osawatomie, Kan., Barack Obama laid bare his progressive agenda, calling for more federal involvement in education, increased spending on infrastructure, an extension of the payroll tax cut and increased taxes on the rich. He even invoked Teddy “the Trustbuster” Roosevelt, who, if you’ll recall, became increasingly socialistic as the sun of his national stardom began to set.
Not surprisingly, Obama was disingenuous in a few places — but just a few. At one point, he said he had already signed $1 trillion in spending cuts into law. Presumably, he was referring to the cuts included in the debt ceiling deal. As a reminder, those were cuts to future spending — and legislators will soon frantically work to ensure they don’t materialize. At another point, he called for “greater responsibility from homeowners to not take out mortgages they can’t afford, and remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” That statement would have had more punch if he hadn’t earlier excoriated lenders for “tricking” people into loans they can’t afford, as though people are too stupid to understand the terms of a loan. He also cited two of the rare big-government projects of which conservatives approve — the post-World-War-II GI tuition bill and the creation of the interstate system — as evidence that we are “greater together” (a phrase that appeared repeatedly in the speech). Notice he didn’t cite the many New Deal, Great Society and modern programs — from headed-for-implosion entitlements to sunken welfare benefits to additional education spending — that have proved to be either ineffective or disastrous, exacerbating the very problems they were intended to solve.
But, on the whole, the president was pretty transparent about his belief that big government makes everything better. The speech reads like a compelling essay in defense of government interference in free markets at every level. Read it and you’ll wonder why we’re not rushing to increase unemployment benefits, hike taxes, tighten regulations and expand government programs. But then you’ll remember the president’s own advice: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
As tempting as it is to think not only that the government could supply us all with a comfortable living but also that it should, I’m tempted by something else far more. That “something else” is the Founders’ faith in self-government and voluntary associations in and through civic society. Obama said today “we can’t return” to a “do-it-on-your-own” economy, but what he fails to realize is that, for Americans, it’s not a choice between going it alone and going it with the government. He cited the example of a company — Marvin Windows and Doors — that voluntarily refuses to lay off its employees — but confusedly seemed to think more government involvement would help to proliferate that kind of company. But the CEO himself admits a sense of community inspires his faith in his employees — not any kind of government mandate. That CEO clearly keeps faith with the Founders, who, in the construction of our government, controlled for self-interest, but also admonished citizens to remember moral obligations to others.
Today, the president did sweepingly what he has done patchily for the past few months, did at last what I have long wished he would do. He honestly argued for a welfare state and directly stated his disbelief in trickle-down economics. For once — again, except in a few places — this wasn’t conservative rhetoric to cover up progressive policies. It was progressive rhetoric to promote progressive policies. Nobody who reads this speech should be in doubt as to what he’s selling — but they should think deeply about how much freedom they’re willing to give up to buy it.
Update (Allahpundit): How many presidential incarnations has this guy been through in four years? When he first started campaigning, he was pushing Lincoln comparisons and citing Reagan as the model of a paradigm-shifting leader. Then Ted and Caroline Kennedy endorsed him and suddenly he was the new JFK. Then he was sworn in as the new FDR whose can-do ideas about government intervention and stimulus would dig us out of the recessionary hole. A year later he got ObamaCare passed, making him the heir to LBJ’s Great Society legacy. As the economy floundered, his team pointed to Reagan’s 1983 turnaround as their electoral model; Recovery Summer came and went and the economy kept floundering, so they turned to Truman for inspiration on how to scapegoat a “do-nothing Congress.” As of today he’s a Teddy Roosevelt progressive, ready to slay the dragons of plutocracy with the sword of government. And on top of all of this, of course, the Carter comparisons are evergreen. I’m honestly curious to see how he draws the inevitable Gerald Ford analogy before his term’s up.
Needless to say, this 55-minute meandering parade-float of an address was O’s early attempt to frame the narrative of the election. WaPo’s dead right that the key parts echo that Elizabeth Warren video that went viral on the left for its communitarian pitch on tax hikes:
Warren, who helped Obama create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, drew national headlines earlier this fall when she insisted that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own” as a way to rebut charges that Democrats were engaging in class warfare (The video of Warren’s remarks has been viewed more than 807,000 on You Tube.)
There were echoes of that we-are-all-in-this together economic philosophy everywhere in Obama’s speech today.
“This isn’t about class warfare, this is about the nation’s welfare,” he said at one point. At another, he insisted that “rebuilding this economy based on fair play, a fair shot and a fair share will require all of us to see the stake we have in each other’s success.”…
We’ve theorized in this space previously that the energy (and money) surrounding Warren is borne of the sense among liberals that she is, more so than Obama himself, the natural heir to the message that the president ran and won on in 2008.
Rebecca Traister also argued that Warrenmania is the successor to Hopenchange in this splashy Times piece a few weeks ago. For all his grandiose presidential analogies, the sad truth about The One is that he has so little to show from his term that he’s now forced to lift messaging from liberal outsiders who themselves are popular partly because of … disaffection with Obama. Says Jonah Goldberg, “If you just woke up from a coma & this speech was playing in your hospital room, you’d have no idea Obama’s been POTUS for 3 years.”