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 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. By the White House’s own reckoning, 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. (Alan: The unacknowledged rhinoceros in the room is that bank-busting Medicare and Medicaid costs will be brought under control in the only way possible... by making Medicare and Medicaid by a single-payer healthcare system which will "immediately" cut the cost of care in half - and without significant diminishment of care-quality. The following article, based on a National Geographic article, is illustrative: http://peltiertech.com/WordPress/graphing-the-cost-of-health-care/)
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. (Alan: By removing the current cap beyond which wealthy Americans stop paying FICA taxes proportionate to income, the solvency of Social Security is guaranteed. The political right would have us believe that solutions do not exist. In fact, solutions are non-existent only so long as "no new taxes" is deemed a sine qua non credo. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/06/research_desk_responds_could_r.html)
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. (Alan: The difference, of course, is that -- sometimes -- only experts can save our ass.)
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. (Alan: The cost of entitlements -- as currently structured-and-endowed for the benefit of Cowboy Capitalism -- is a real problem. Within the context of Cowboy Capitalism, it is an insoluble problem. Enter single payer healthcare and elimination of the FICA cap. Furthermore, there is no discussion of "baby boomers" as a time-limited cost. I am 65 years old -- receive both Social Security and Medicare -- and I, like the rest of "the boomers" will be dead in 25 years. The current crisis, demographically driven, has a time-certian demographic end. Until we account for the inexorable operation of death - perhaps accelerated by replacing end-of-life "medical heroicism" with palliative care, we will continue to shadow box.)
On the contrary. Obama is the apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity. (Alan: "Collectivity" is the pejorative expression for "communitarianism." Cowboy Capitalism -- with its industrial-strenght promotion of The Seven Deadly Sins -- has corrupted community. Now, communitarianism -- largely driven by the emerging majority of dark-skinned people -- is experiencing overdue resurgence.) 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. (Alan: The complexity of contemporary techo-scientific culture makes it impossible to achieve comprehensive humanity" through the old system of voluntary associations. America's Catholic hospital system is first to admit this truth. Republicans would have us barter chickens for MRI's. The logic is laughable. The following "Economist" article explores the impossible finances of Church operated social services in the absence of government assistance. http://www.economist.com/node/21560536)
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.” (Alan: Government is not "the problem." And those who believe this core credo are essentially destructive people. No political system - particularly democratic systems - can survive the central belief that "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.
Alan: I predict Obama will succeed and America, in tatters after the ravages of financialization and other forms of "free market" predatory capitalism will be better for it.