One year ago today, Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office for his first full day as President. So far, it has pretty much stunk. Anthony Gregory has written a stupendous article at LRC recollecting many of the events of the past year. Here’s a brief excerpt, but I suggest you read the entire article for good measure. Anthony is a great writer, you won’t regret taking the time out to read it. The sources alone make it a valuable essay.
The First Anniversary of Hope and Change by Anthony Gregory
Moderate Americans tend to trust Democrats in domestic affairs and Republicans on national security issues. The financial collapse of 2008 played into the hands of Democrats who wanted to use the crisis as an excuse to expand government power and implement the policies they had long wanted – just as 9/11 was the type of foreign-policy crisis that formed the perfect storm for Republican interventionism.
Indeed, in the domestic arena there has been the most actual change, at least superficially. Most of the debates in the last year have concerned domestic policy. The flavor of central planning we could always expect under Obama is a mixture of center-left Keynesianism, corporate socialism with an egalitarian veneer, and the machine-politics pragmatism of Chicago from whence his career was launched.
But libertarians, limited-government conservatives and anti-corporatist liberals should actually agree on one thing: Obama’s economic policy has been a disaster and a betrayal in practically every way.
We could tell there would mostly be continuity when Obama picked Timothy Geithner, who had been intimate in the Bush-Paulson Wall Street bailouts, as his Treasury Secretary. From then to Obama’s nomination of Ben Bernanke to serve another term as Fed Chairman, there has been little for anyone wanting actual “change” to celebrate.
First, a note on Obama’s style of governance. A product of a tech-savvy and youthful political movement, Obama repeatedly promised transparency, transparency, transparency. He said the deliberations with drug and insurance companies would be on C-SPAN. He said all non-emergency legislation would be online for five days for the public to read before it was voted on. He has broken these promises.
The first bill Obama ever signed, the Lilly Ledbetter “Equal Pay for Equal Work” law, was not put online as promised. Neither was the stimulus bill. And neither have all the health care talks been on C-Span, as he repeatedly promised. It is also difficult to find an excuse for why Obama’s website that showed where all the stimulus money was supposed to be creating jobs listed 440 Congressional districts that don’t even exist. This is the kind of mistake that is either the product of such brazen hubris, or such incompetence, that it makes even the most cynical opponent of government corruption scratch his head and laugh.
Now, in the case of the stimulus bill, Obama did claim it was an emergency. The cost of inaction was too great to delay action. “[A]t this particular moment, only government can provide the short term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.” He also said, “For every day we wait or point our fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings.”
And how did that work out? As USA Today reported just recently:
Even before Barack Obama took the oath of office, his economic advisers projected that without hundreds of billions of dollars in government spending, the U.S. economy could lose another 3 million to 4 million jobs on top of the 3.1 million lost in 2008.
It turns out they were optimistic. Even with the $787 billion stimulus package that Obama signed in February, more than 4 million jobs have been lost in 2009, the worst year for job losses since World War II. The jobless rate that advisers projected would peak at 8% has topped 10%.
Early on, Obama gave us the auto bailouts that Bush probably would have had he continued serving in office, circumventing bankruptcy law, hurting creditors and essentially nationalizing the car industry. Now the Treasury tells us such “loans” are “highly unlikely to be recovered.” Related to this of course was the Keynesian and Rooseveltian “Cash for Clunkers” program, an insane subsidy project whereby cars that could have been sold to people who actually could use them were destroyed wholesale in exchange for a voucher to buy a new car. Many of these new cars were foreign imports, even though the program was supposed to boost America’s auto industry. But all in all, what the program did was encourage Americans to either buy a car a little earlier or later than they would have anyway. The only tangible result is American taxpayers were ripped off and perfectly good cars were destroyed.
As far as old-fashioned spending goes, Obama is king. Last Spring, Obama unveiled an unfathomable $3.6 trillion budget with a $1.2 trillion deficit. The deficit is now nearly as large as the entire budget was when Bill Clinton took office in 1992. In real dollars, you can go back to the height of the Vietnam War, and the U.S. was still not spending as much as the U.S. is borrowing today. Talk about scary.
In terms of the general flavor of Obama’s domestic policy, it is generally the same welfare-state corporatism we have become all too familiar with. Those progressives who think the president is standing up to corporate interests should read Matt Taibbi to learn all about how Obama has only taken the Wall Street–Washington revolving door and widened it.
There is a new emphasis on regulation and welfarism that we did not get from Bush, but the shift has mainly been rhetorical. The corporatist nature of America’s mixed economy can be seen in Obamacare – where the insurance companies will have a captive market, thanks to the “individual mandate” that candidate Obama claimed he opposed – as well as in Cap and Trade, which will create a commodity market in the right to pollute (and that’s assuming you take the administration at its word that carbon dioxide is a pollutant).
Speaking of health care, the interventionist scope of Obama’s bill is deeply unsettling. By forcing people to buy insurance, the government will soon embark on a virtually unprecedented and unconstitutional intrusion into our personal lives. Meanwhile, keeping with the corporatism of the previous president, Obama’s FDA has successfully opposed the reimportation of cheap drugs, which Obama once supported, and his Department of Agriculture represents a continuation of the corporate-welfare subsidies and cartelization in farming we’ve seen over the years.
Overall, there has been a sharp acceleration of intervention at home. There is no doubt. Obama’s health-care plan represents a tax increase, which he claimed he would not impose on the middle class. This administration has banned flavored cigarettes, invaded the corporate boardroom, expanded the budget, buffed up the EPA and regulatory agencies, pushed for an “network neutrality” policy that would hand the internet over to the FCC, and on and on.