Five and a half years into the Obama era, a healthy conservative movement would be well positioned to highlight the link between big government and corporate cronyism. President Obama’s stimulus package, supposedly passed to address unemployment, functioned primarily to line the pockets of well-connected unions and firms like Solyndra rather than to build a foundation for a broad-based recovery. Obamacare, professedly designed to reduce costs, has served instead to increase premiums, limit choice, and guarantee insurers a steady stream of revenue. The Dodd-Frank reform, billed as a measure that would protect consumers from future financial collapses, has only exacerbated the problem of too-big-to-fail, and Wall Street profits have soared in subsequent years. Corporate friends of the Obama administration and the Democratic party have done quite well in the Obama era, even as the economy has stagnated. Being well-connected does wonders.
There’s nothing wrong with soaring profits, as long as they don’t come at the expense of the public weal. Irving Kristol once observed that big business “straddles, uncomfortably and uncertainly, both the private and public sectors of our ‘mixed economy.’ ” The discomfort is disappearing. In the Obama era, big business seems to prefer sure profits guaranteed by government to the risks of competition.
Unfortunately, because many voters still perceive Republicans as pro-business rather than pro-market, the party is poorly positioned to articulate this critique. Congressional leadership’s obsession of late with amnesty for illegal immigrants—a priority for big business that remains anathema to Main Street—has done the conservative movement no favors in this regard. Perceptions can change, but only if political leaders claiming the mantle of Reagan make some difficult decisions. Congressional leaders have numerous opportunities to break with the politics of crony capitalism this year, but only if they are willing to upset powerful corporate interests in the process.