Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sweeping Judgements

When I heard this line from President Obama's radio address this morning, it sounded angrier than it reads:
I didn’t come here to do the same thing we’ve been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.

It's one thing to repudiate business as usual. It's another to ridicule incremental change so blithely. Cautiousness is often a virtue in a leader, even in a crisis -- especially in one. Just because everyone tells Obama he's FDR doesn't mean he is. Obviously every President has a tendency to think that God or fate put him in office to accomplish great things. But if there's a consensus among economists who are as smart as or smarter than Obama that a massive increase in the size and scope of the federal government is what the economy most needs right now, I haven't seen it. Instead, Obama appears to be using the economic crisis to accomplish his ideology-based agenda. Before the election, he gave no hints about the scope of his ambitions, so he can't really say he was elected to provide sweeping change. Instead, he was elected because Lehman Bros. tanked and people had grown disenchanted with George W. Bush's ineffectiveness.

Won't Obama's move to the left empower Republicans, in the same way Bill Clinton's attempt at nationalized health care and other leftward moves set up the GOP's 1994 landslide? Obama doesn't seem to be worried. As he denounces politics as usual, he gives every impression of beginning to think that he's immune to them.

I don't think a President should resort to incrementalist policies just to be reelected. But he should be attracted to them when no one is sure if more dramatic moves are the right thing to do. Even Obama's most consistent new-media supporter, Andrew Sullivan, says Obama's policies are radical and untested. We're not a radical country. Obama was smart enough to know that 2008 was the Democrats' year and that Hillary Clinton was vulnerable. He earned his win. But if he arrogantly overreaches and forces policies down our throats that blunt a recovery by muffling enterprise and economic growth, he deserves to lose.

The terrible thing to imagine is how bad off the United States would have to be for the President to be hobbled in 2010 and defeated in 2012. So I don't agree with opportunistic Republicans who admit they want him to fail. That's a grossly irresponsible position to take, tantamount to wanting to lose a war to achieve political gain. I want him to succeed. I'm just beginning to think he won't.

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