Obama and the Restoration
The pith of Charles Krauthammer's commentary the other day on Mr. Obama's second inaugural address is thus: the president is the Anti-Reagan. Mr. Obama is the very embodiment of a long, focused, and diligent campaign by the left to delegitimize the "Reagan Revolution" and create a restoration plus of the old liberal welfare state. The president is sort of a left-wing version of Charles II. The jury's still out about Mr. Obama's liberal restoration having legs.
Of course, who on the right doesn't appreciate the left's aims? For the right, there should be little doubt, with the benefit of four years' hindsight, that Mr. Obama is doing his single-minded level best to upend Reagan's accomplishments (both philosophically and practically) and earn a mantle beside or surpassing FDR in the left's pantheon. But Krauthammer writes for a broader audience. His assessment helps plant seeds of understanding, which, one hopes, gives more citizens a cause for concern and engagement.
In the eye of history, Obama's second inaugural is a direct response to Ronald Reagan's first. On January 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.
Mr. Obama isn't a leftist lightweight or an incompetent; nor is he a little engaged chief executive who cares more about golfing, surfing, and taxpayer-funded multimillion dollar dates with Michelle than remaking the nation -- radically so. Mr. Obama is truly a rock-solid left-wing ideologue, with a strong strategic grasp, and a man who has Alinsky's tactics down cold. He has demonstrated -- chiefly through ObamaCare -- that's he's more than willing to govern against majority opinion to achieve his ends. That's as hardnosed as it gets. Whatever the president is deficient in in skills or capability, his lieutenants (Axelrod, et al) make up for. Misapprehending the man, Barack Obama -- or underestimating him -- has been and is dangerous to liberty's future.
Don't forget that much of Mr. Obama's college years overlapped Reagan's presidency. The president attended elite schools, for the most part, where left-wing faculties were roiled by and fiercely determined to meet the existential threat posed by Reagan's concrete successes and philosophical challenge. Mr. Obama is very much a product of that milieu, the vexed and plotting academy. Amateur psychology here, but the acme of Mr. Obama's presidency is winning acclaim and being crowned with laurels by the very same academics -- at least those still living -- who molded the president into the Reagan nemesis he is. Certainly, the president wants the approval of his leftist peers, many of whom populate academia now. In some ways, FDR was very much a product of his cousin Teddy's progressivism. A persuasive argument can be made that FDR was extending and surpassing Teddy Roosevelt's programs. FDR wanted to be the preeminent Roosevelt. The left would say he succeeded.
Will Mr. Obama's liberal restoration succeed? There's no law that says it won't, however debilitating that success would be to the nation and future generations of Americans. Reality may eventually undo the president's restoration -- unsustainable cost, unpayable massive debt, ponderous and inhibiting bureaucracy -- but that doesn't mean that liberal failure undoes the left's regency.
Leftists are about acquiring and holding power; means are malleable and unfettered to conventional mores and accepted rules of conduct. The right waits for reality to intervene -- final liberal debacle -- at the nation's peril.
On the extreme end of the spectrum, all can see how leftist power can be tenaciously sustained even in the teeth of failure and consequent suffering. The defunct Soviet Union is a prime example. Putin's authoritarianism debilitates Russia and deprives Russians of liberty and its concomitant advantages currently. Some Chinese -- mostly coastal -- may be better off under a corporatist state than a communist one, but hundreds of millions of rural Chinese find the still-indentified communist elites' rule no better than Mao's (sans the mass slaughters).
Mr. Obama and the left will only be defeated through antithesis; by that is meant conservatives providing Americans with clear declarations of principles and bold actions consistent with liberty. At times, tactically, there may be some advantages for the right to trim, accommodate, and backpedal -- some. But core principles should never be compromised. The main push has to be toward giving Americans the chance to examine diametrically opposing worldviews. The times beg stark choices between statism and liberty.
The consequences of conservatives taking the hard line? Vilification and demagoguing regularly by the president and other Democrats. Broadsides and rifle shots from the mainstream media. Co-opting of liberty's language to confuse the debate. Opprobrium from young, minority, and low-information voters. Perhaps, in the short run, some election losses in marginal congressional seats. Or, perhaps, the presidency in 2016, though that's a long way off and the variables are innumerable. But the left aims to vanquish Republicans, anyway (conservatism more generally; a party is merely a vehicle). Isn't Mr. Obama and his cohorts engaging these tactics now, regardless the right's actions or lack thereof? And keep this in mind. The left never plays for the short run, not if it means compromising long term goals. Liberal restoration didn't come immediately for leftists in the 1980s. It's come after a long slog and hard fighting.
The day will come -- and I'd suggest much sooner than a generation -- when Americans will need a striking alternative to leftist rule. That alternative -- a freedom alternative -- needs to be developed, unflinchingly articulated, and acted upon day in and day out starting now. Let Americans witness now that there's a confident, principled alternative to fashionable liberalism.
The war with the left is being fought over fundamentals. Will America be a nation of diminished -- and diminishing freedoms -- or a nation reinvigorated by a dedication to founding principles? The right's aim shouldn't be a restoration of Reaganism, but the final scuttling of aberrant liberalism and the resumption of the march of liberty. It's a tall order, and there are those on the right and across the spectrum saying it can't be done. But history is replete with tough challenges met and long odds beaten. 1776 comes to mind. To liberty's triumph, then, unshakably, right-thinking Americans must dedicate themselves.