Opinion: America’s social contract is at stake

November 4, 2012


— “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” That was Barack Obama in 2008. And he was right. Reagan was an ideological inflection point, ending a 50-year liberal ascendancy and beginning a 30-year conservative ascendancy.

It is common for one party to take control and enact its ideological agenda. Ascendancy, however, occurs only when the opposition inevitably regains power and then proceeds to accept the basic premises of the preceding revolution.

Thus, Republicans railed for 20 years against the New Deal. Yet when they regained the White House in 1953, they kept the New Deal intact.

And when Nixon followed LBJ’s Great Society — liberalism’s second wave — he didn’t repeal it. He actually expanded it. Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, gave teeth to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and institutionalized affirmative action — major adornments of contemporary liberalism.

Until Reagan. Ten minutes into his presidency, Reagan declares that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Having thus rhetorically rejected the very premise of the New Deal/Great Society, he sets about attacking its foundations — with radical tax reduction, major deregulation, a frontal challenge to unionism (breaking the air traffic controllers for striking illegally) and an (only partially successful) attempt at restraining government growth.

Reaganism’s ascendancy was confirmed when the other guys came to power and their leader, Bill Clinton, declared (in his 1996 State of the Union address) that “the era of big government is over” — and then abolished welfare, the centerpiece “relief” program of modern liberalism.

In Britain, the same phenomenon: Tony Blair did to Thatcherism what Clinton did to Reaganism. He made it the norm.

Obama’s intention has always been to re-normalize, to reverse ideological course, to be the anti-Reagan — the author of a new liberal ascendancy. Nor did he hide his ambition. In his February 2009 address to Congress he declared his intention to transform America. This was no abstraction. He would do it in three areas: health care, education and energy.

Think about that. Health care is one-sixth of the economy. Education is the future. And energy is the lifeblood of any advanced country — control pricing and production and you’ve controlled the industrial economy.

And it wasn’t just rhetoric. He enacted liberalism’s holy grail: the nationalization of health care. His $830 billion stimulus, by far the largest spending bill in U.S. history, massively injected government into the free market — lavishing immense amounts of tax dollars on favored companies and industries in a naked display of industrial policy.

And what Obama failed to pass through Congress, he enacted unilaterally by executive action. He could not pass cap-and-trade, but his EPA is killing coal. (No new coal-fired power plant would ever be built.) In 2006, liberals failed legislatively to gut welfare’s work requirement. Obama’s new HHS rules do that by fiat. Continued in a second term, they would abolish welfare reform as we know it — just as in a second term, natural gas will follow coal, as Obama’s EPA regulates fracking into noncompetitiveness.

Government grows in size and power as the individual shrinks into dependency. Until the tipping point where dependency becomes the new norm — as it is in Europe, where even minor retrenchment of the entitlement state has led to despair and, for the more energetic, rioting.

An Obama second term means that the movement toward European-style social democracy continues, in part by legislation, in part by executive decree. The American experiment — the more individualistic, energetic, innovative, risk-taking model of democratic governance — continues to recede, yielding to the supervised life of the entitlement state.

If Obama loses, however, his presidency becomes a historical parenthesis, a passing interlude of overreaching hyper-liberalism, rejected by a center-right country that is 80 percent nonliberal.

Should they summon the skill and dexterity, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan could guide the country to the restoration of a more austere and modest government with more restrained entitlements and a more equitable and efficient tax code. Those achievements alone would mark a new trajectory — a return to what Reagan started three decades ago.

Every four years we are told that the coming election is the most important of one’s life. This time it might actually be true. At stake is the relation between citizen and state, the very nature of the American social contract.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


neworleans 1 year, 5 months ago

Who is gonna riot? Vote Romney for a much better America!!!!


jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

Looks like somebody has disappeared again.

This question of Obama eating dog meat as a response to Romney's actions seems quite off to me.

I read about it - Obama ate dog meat as a child in Indonesia, where apparently that's part of the culture. Romney strapped a sick dog on top of his car as an adult in a country that frowns on that sort of thing.

If I've ever seen a good example of a "false equivalency", this would be it.


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 5 months ago

Apple, the world's most valuable company, pays only 1.9 percent in taxes and leaves a staggering $82 billion parked in offshore accounts.

This information underscores what Obama was trying to explain about the problem in our US tax structure that is allowing super rich corporations to avoid taxes.

These tax loopholes were created by a Washington culture of "pay to play" politics and back room deals that have become the norm in a country where a class of incredibly selfish and wealthy people disregard average Americans as a class of "serfs" to be taken advantage. They calculate our value by how much we cost per hour and according to that formula, Chinese labor is much more valuable then their own countrymen.

This culture invites corruption.


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 5 months ago

Bozo on the Bus originally posted this link about how Romney made his money. It is the best article I have read on Romney.

I think everyone needs to read this.


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 5 months ago

"About 44 million people in this country have no health insurance, and another 38 million have inadequate health insurance. This means that nearly one-third of Americans face each day without the security of knowing that, if and when they need it, medical care is available to them and their families."

There are about 315 Million Americans.

The right wing nuts like to complain about the cost of health care but they are not telling the truth to the American people about the scope of the problem that exists. Simply repealing Obamacare does nothing to fix the problem.

Just like global warming, the right wing is trying to convince people that 82 million underinsured or non insured Americans simply do not exist.

The Republican Party only tells lies. They cannot seem to tell the truth.

The mystery in all of this is why? What is the motivation other than to retain their wealth and power at the expense of average Americans.

Romney is a takeover specialist that raided companies and stripped them and shipped jobs to China. He is an absolute phony. Not a businessman at all but no better than a crook so why do people believe that he is going to help businesses. If we believe that, we should let Bernie Madoff out of prison and put him in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission. It is full of crooks and con artists anyway.


classclown 1 year, 5 months ago

I see bozo learned a new word he intends to use to death. Does he have a word-a-day calendar?


booyalab 1 year, 5 months ago

For those of you who might be wondering "What is this "social contract"? Why have I never seen it before?" Here's a foolproof method for finding one:

You will need-

  1. A young virgin
  2. A meadow on the edge of a deep forest
  3. A golden bridle
  4. Some hunters

The virgin must sit beneath a tree in the meadow on the edge of a deep forest and sing softly. If a social contract is nearby, it will come and rest its head on her lap. Then the virgin must place the golden bridle on its head so the hunters can capture it. But if the social contract still doesn't show up, there's always the possibility that the virgin didn't believe strongly enough or maybe it was too cloudy and the social contract wanted to stay in bed. The main thing is to know that it's always somewhere in the forest, majestically posed on a grassy mound, the sun glinting through a clearing. Mysterious. Proud and protective.


Armstrong 1 year, 5 months ago

Cappy, I'm sure the National Guard will be happy to keep you in line, on orders from Presdient Romey of course. Pastor - the news is on Yahoo regarding the raggedy masses wanting to riot.


Armstrong 1 year, 5 months ago

From Cappy "Fight back America! Revenge is called for and the best revenge is a vote for President Barack Obama. " I see you and your ilk are now threatening riots ( via twitter ) if Barry loses.

Gotta love the party of caring and compassion, hypocracy at its best / worst...


Kirk Larson 1 year, 5 months ago

Thirty years ago began the Class War against the Middle Class. Suppress wages, raid pensions and benefits, bust unions, cut taxes for the rich, ship jobs overseas, basically the republican business model. Fight back America! Revenge is called for and the best revenge is a vote for President Barack Obama.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 5 months ago

Romneyism by Robert Reich

  1. Corporations are the basic units of society. Corporations are people, and the overriding purpose of an economy is to maximize corporate profits. When profits are maximized, the economy grows fastest. This growth benefits everyone in the form greater output, better products and services, and higher share prices.

  2. Workers are a means to the goal of maximizing corporate profits. If workers do not contribute to that goal, they should be fired. If they cannot then find other work that helps maximize profits in another company, their wages must be too high, and they must therefore accept steadily lower wages until they find a job.

  3. All factors of production – capital, physical plant and equipment, workers – are fungible and should be treated the same. Any that fail to deliver high competitive returns should be replaced or discarded. This keeps an economy efficient. Fairness is and should be irrelevant.

  4. Pollution, unsafe products, unsafe working conditions, financial fraud, and other negative side effects of the pursuit of profits are the price society pays for profit-driven growth. They should not be used as excuses to constrain the pursuit of profits through regulation.

  5. Individual worth depends on net worth — how much money one has made, and the value of the assets that money has been invested in. Any person with enough intelligence and ambition can make a fortune. Failure to do so is sign of moral and intellectual inferiority.

  6. People who fail in the economy should not be coddled. They should not receive food stamps, Medicaid, or any other form of social subsidy. Coddling leads to a weaker society and a weaker economy.

  7. Taxes are inherently bad because they constrain profit-making. It is the right and responsibility of individuals and corporations to exploit every tax loophole they (and their tax attorneys) can find in order to pay the lowest taxes possible.

  8. Politics is a game whose only purpose is to win. Any means used to win the game is legitimate even if it involves lying and cheating, as long as it gains more supporters than it loses.

  9. Democracy is dangerous because it is forever vulnerable to the votes of a majority intent on capturing the wealth of the successful minority, on whom the economy depends. The rich must therefore do whatever is necessary to prevent the majority from exercising its will, including spending large sums of money on lobbyists and political campaigns. The most virtuous among the rich will go a step further and run for president.

  10. The three most important aspects of life are family, religion, and money. Patriotism is a matter of guarding our economy from unfair traders and undocumented immigrants, rather than joining together for the common good. We owe nothing to one another as citizens of the same society.


Windemere 1 year, 5 months ago

Oh my goodness, Bozo and I might, sort of, agree on something.

Romney is a better choice than Obama because it seems he is more likely to reign in the size, spending and power of the federal government. For those who see out of control Federal spending and the debt as the #1 issue (or possibly #2, next to national defense), Romney appears to be the better choice. Don't bother throwing out examples of Repubs spending irresponsibly just like Dems, everyone knows that is true. But the question is which candidate in this election is most likely to tackle the problems?


1 year, 5 months ago

"This time it might actually be true."

@LOL. There is no way he believes this to be true. Mitt was a liberal governor of a deeply blue state, who designed and enacted the very program there that CK finds so horrifying about Obama's term. Mitt was for abortion rights before he was against them and against gun rights before he was for them. This northern Republican is far more liberal (in the New Deal sense) than the Democratic governor of Arkansas ever was.

I wonder if it will take conservatives 5 years of a Romney presidency - as it did in the case of Bush - to discover that, comforting words and wishful thinking aside, he's not really a conservative.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 5 months ago

The social contract isn't at stake-- The New GOP (Grand Old Plutocracy) would just narrow the focus of its beneficiaries to the plutocrats of the 0.1%.


Armstrong 1 year, 5 months ago

All you need to do is open your eyes and look at the economic path Barry is taking the country - Greece. For that fact alone anyone with an ounce of sanity should avoid voting for the current socialist in chief and let someone / anyone with even a basic understanding of business / economics take over.


revenge_voter 1 year, 5 months ago

Talking to a friend yesterday about how 15 years ago, we disliked Clinton intensely, and both agreed after 4 years of Obama, we now rather admire his presidency. The current president is an insult to every freedom(s) loving American. Good Krauthammer column, btw.


Windemere 1 year, 5 months ago

Mostly dead on, Charles. (Though not sure about the "most important election" point.) Romney has little chance of winning, and he's not ideal, but he's a better choice than Obama .


Ken Lassman 1 year, 5 months ago

Mr. Kraut has continued to hammer away at his own head again. His analysis is so rife with flat out self delusions it's hard to know where to begin.

-Nationalizing healthcare??? Obamacare is pretty much the opposite of a single payor nationalized healthcare system--it virtually enshrines the private insurance company as the great middleman, providing a whole crop of new customers with the vague notion that through mandatory coverage, rates might drop a little. Why folks think this is nationalized healthcare rather than a reserved seat for the private sector at the government hog trough is beyond me. Providing healthcare has always had a blind spot for the private sector, which has the built-in conflict of interest in both diagnosing the problem and receiving the payment for that diagnosis. This system has developed very efficient machines in the hospital and insurance industries, each finely honed to maximize profit and neither really a check and balance for the other. This is not seriously changed by Obamacare, and to label it otherwise is just silly.

-Ask a teacher about whether Obama's Education reforms are an upending of the No child left behind legacy of Bush or a consolidation of that public education dismantlement program, and you'll get an earful.

-The EPA is not killing coal; cheap gas from fracking is killing it by making it cheaper to burn than coal. Of course, Obama isn't rolling back safeguards about mercury pollution from coal, or giving a green light to wholesale mountaintop removal in the Appalachians. But they have okayed the tar sands pipeline from Canada, re-opened drilling in the gulf, given billions to the clean coal boondoggle, and are letting proceed plans for new ports being built to export coal to other countries, despite the connection between climate change and coal's big role in CO2 emissions.

  • at the end, Krauthammer talks about how Romney/Ryan will return the country to the Reagan legacy, only after saying that Clinton consolidated the Reagan trajectory. I'm amazed that he seems to think that the government intervention Obama (and Bush) implemented was done for any other reason than to salvage a free-fall economy that was the true legacy of the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush trajectory. The basic players and dynamics are still in place, doing the same things that they were doing before Obama, just with a few trillion dollars of taxpayor money disappeared so they can continue to play the same game.

There certainly is no evidence of the social contract in Romney/Ryan, which, after all is based on the premise that in order to live in a society, an individual must cede certain individual rights out of consideration to others, knowing that the benefits of the group stepping in to help the individual outweighs the ceding of those individual rights. I think that Hurricane Sandy has reminded folks of the basic benefits of the social contract, which is why Obama is getting a last minute boost in the polls.


jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

Wow - I really have to wonder if CK really believes the stuff he writes.


Gandalf 1 year, 5 months ago

I dusted off my palantir. I see charlie foaming at the mouth Nov 7th. Obama carries both Ohio and Florida. Over 300 electorial votes.


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