Opinion: Obama seeks return to pre-Reagan liberalism

January 26, 2013


— The media herd is stunned to discover that Barack Obama is a man of the left. After 699 teleprompted presidential speeches, the commentariat was apparently still oblivious. Until Monday’s inaugural address, that is.

Where has everyone been these four years? The only surprise is that Obama chose his second inaugural, generally an occasion for “malice toward none” ecumenism, to unveil so uncompromising a left-liberal manifesto.

But the substance was no surprise. After all, Obama had unveiled his transformational agenda in his very first address to Congress, four years ago (Feb. 24, 2009). It was, I wrote at the time, “the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president.”

Nor was it mere talk. Obama went on to essentially nationalize health care, 18 percent of the U.S. economy — after passing an $833 billion stimulus that precipitated an unprecedented expansion of government spending. Washington now spends 24 percent of GDP, fully one-fifth higher than the postwar norm of 20 percent.

Obama’s ambitions were derailed by the 2010 midterm shellacking that cost him the House. But now that he’s won again, the revolution is back, as announced in Monday’s inaugural address.

It was a paean to big government. At its heart was Obama’s pledge to (1) defend unyieldingly the 20th-century welfare state and (2) expand it unrelentingly for the 21st.

The first part of that agenda — clinging zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — is the very definition of reactionary liberalism. Social Security was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern medical technology was in its infancy. Today’s radically different demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured, unsustainable. Everyone knows that, unless reformed, they will swallow up the rest of the budget.

As for the second part — enlargement — Obama had already begun that in his first term with Obamacare. Monday’s inaugural address reinstated yet another grand Obama project — healing the planet. It promised a state-created green energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state’s regulatory apparatus systematically squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today, shale gas tomorrow).

The playbook is well known. As Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus once explained, environmentalism is the successor to failed socialism as justification for all-pervasive rule by a politburo of experts. Only now, it acts in the name of not the proletariat but the planet.

Monday’s address also served to disabuse the fantasists of any Obama interest in fiscal reform or debt reduction. This speech was spectacularly devoid of any acknowledgment of the central threat to the postindustrial democracies (as already seen in Europe) — the crisis of an increasingly insolvent entitlement state.

On the contrary. Obama is the apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity. But by that he means only government, not the myriad of voluntary associations — religious, cultural, charitable, artistic, advocacy, ad infinitum — that are the glory of the American system.

For Obama, nothing lies between citizen and state. It is a desert, within which the isolated citizen finds protection only in the shadow of Leviathan. Put another way, this speech is the perfect homily for the marriage of Julia — the Obama campaign’s atomized citizen, coddled from cradle to grave — and the state.

In the eye of history, Obama’s second inaugural is a direct response to Ronald Reagan’s first. On Jan. 20, 1981, Reagan had proclaimed: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And then succeeded in bending the national consensus to his ideology — as confirmed 15 years later when the next Democratic president declared “The era of big government is over.” So said Bill Clinton, who then proceeded to abolish welfare.

Obama is no Clinton. He doesn’t abolish entitlements; he preserves the old ones and creates new ones in pursuit of a vision of a more just social order where fighting inequality and leveling social differences are the great task of government.

Obama said in 2008 that Reagan “changed the trajectory of America” in a way that Clinton did not. He meant that Reagan had transformed the political zeitgeist, while Clinton accepted and thus validated the new Reaganite norm.

Not Obama. His mission is to redeem and resurrect the 50-year pre-Reagan liberal ascendancy. Accordingly, his second inaugural address, ideologically unapologetic and aggressive, is his historical marker, his self-proclamation as the Reagan of the left. If he succeeds in these next four years, he will have earned the title.

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


Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

It is not sustainable. These types of policies are popular with the takers however

KiferGhost 5 years, 3 months ago

Interesting the Europeans have been doing even more than this and they are still in business overcoming the rebuilding of East Germany and managing the debt crises in the less productive countries. What isn't sustainable is growth at any and all costs that the Reagan doctrine brought us.

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

Tell me, how has that worked out for Greece , Spain and Portugal ?

chootspa 5 years, 3 months ago

Austerity? No, austerity hasn't worked out so well for them.

Alyosha 5 years, 3 months ago

Define, with independent sources, your term "takers," if you can.

If you can't, your entire comment is meaningless.

Oh — and plus: sentences require periods. So on the purely structural level your comment is meaningless as well.

parco814 5 years, 3 months ago

HammerKraut continues to degenerate into a bitter crank who can't resist opening his column with a sarcastic did at the President's teleprompter skills, even though he knows fully well that Ronald Reagan was just as reliant on that tool.

"Armstrong," who has all the credibility of that other Armstrong in the news these days, rails against the "takers," who are known to the rest of us as the people who believe in policies that foster equal opportunity in America.

"Pre-Reagan liberalism" helped create a thriving middle class, established landmark civil rights laws, and was committed to a level playing field for all Americans. The American people spoke in favor of those policies and the values they represent. The President's optimism and belief in America is the ideal antidote to the pessimism and resentfulness of HammerKraut and Armstrong.

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

This time around it's much better for the takers -

Unemployment is easier to get

Unemplyment bennies last longer

Free healthcare - who needs a stinking job

Barry cares

Lastly 'It's Bushs fault"

KiferGhost 5 years, 3 months ago

The takers, what a blow hard. What about the banks that took billions and are sitting on billions instead of investing in this country? What we need are higher taxes and building the kind of society that moves past the wild west days. Time to grow up in other words. Waaaa the takers, the takers, what a simpleton view of the world.

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

"What we need are higher taxes and building the kind of society that moves past the wild west days." That is hysterical ! Keep em comin Schecky

Alyosha 5 years, 3 months ago

Where do you get the idea that there is free health care in the United States?

Seems strange to assert something so demonstrably without factual basis. Why would you make an assertion so easily proven to be baseless?

Lastly, what is Bush's fault, in your mind? Why are you asserting that?

This is hardly a response to the article worthy of being read. Why would you post such a non-helpful comment?

Alyosha 5 years, 3 months ago

Krauthammer seriously needs an editor. So many meaningless jargon terms, so many wholly unsupportable claims. It's a wonder this was published. It certainly does no public good to inject such nonsense into the public debate.

One wonders what the LJW gets out of publishing something that no self-respecting editor would let pass, even for a so-called "opinion" piece.

If an opinion is not supported by facts and sound thinking, how does it advance the national or local public good to publish it?

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

The pre-Reagan era, hmm. Anyone old enough to remember Jimmy Carter? Jimmy, the president who brought double digit inflation, double digit unemployment and oh yea that Iranian thingy that's still going on today. Yes I would say Barack is doing a stellar job of bringing back the pre-Reagan era.

voevoda 5 years, 3 months ago

Those of us who actually do remember the 1970s and 1980s will need to disagree with you, Armstrong. Yes, there was high inflation in the 1970s, including during Jimmy Carter's years--but the Obama years have not been marked by high inflation. Unemployment rose sharply in the early Reagan years. Reagan sharply increased the budget deficit, too--and it was a Democrat, Clinton, who changed that to a budget surplus. In general, unemployment has declined during Democratic administrations and it has risen under Republican administrations. And as for Iran--the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah during Carter's years as president, but only because a series of American administrations--Republicans as well as Democrats--had supported the Shah's corrupt and dictatorial regime. I do wonder why you and Krauthammer are so eager to misremember history.

verity 5 years, 3 months ago

The truth is hard to swallow when it doesn't fit your ideology. Misremembering is essential to the survival of weak egos.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Charles is constantly throwing out that word "liberal" in some form as if everyone who does not subscribe to his endorsement of a USA Military Global Domination is a liberal. Does Charles have any idea of what the hell he is talking about? I suggest perhaps not. Obama is certainly no liberal but a conservative democrat.

The USA should be looking at how to make PEACE profitable and our primary industry. We can afford to do this.

Peace could be wayyyy more profitable if war were not the industry..

Taxpayers in The United States will pay $111.1 billion for Afghanistan war spending for FY2012 Enacted. For the same amount of money, the following could be provided:

51.1 million Annual Energy Costs for a Household for One Year OR

56.9 million Children Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year OR

1.6 million Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR

10.7 million Fair Market Rent for One Bedroom Apartment for One Year OR

14.6 million Head Start Slots for Children for One Year OR

47.9 million Households Converted to All Solar Energy for One Year OR

100.6 million Households Converted to All Wind Energy for One Year OR

14.2 million Military Veterans Receiving VA Medical Care for One Year OR

53.1 million One Year Worth of Groceries for an Individual OR

22.8 million People Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year OR

1.6 million Police or Sheriff's Patrol Officers for One Year OR

14.1 million Scholarships for University Students for One Year OR

20.0 million Students receiving Pell Grants of $5550

Imagine all of those dollars going back into the economy instead going to a money hole and creating dead bodies all over the world.

msezdsit 5 years, 3 months ago

kruthsy, take a break, your getting progressively more and more stupid and its showing.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 3 months ago

Pre-Reagan Liberalism?

That doesn't even make any sense.

JayhawkFan1985 5 years, 3 months ago

1st - health care wasn't nationalized. For that to be the case, we would need a medicare for everyone one insurer system. We don't have that.

2nd - the stimulus was absolutely necessary to avoid economic collapse triggered by Bush's time as president.

3rd - government spending is ALWAYS lower under democrats than under Republicans.

Krauthammer is part of the Faux News machine...he should be ignored. I'm annoyed the journal world carries his editorials when they are nothing but a pack of lies and political propaganda.

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