Saturday, June 05, 2010

Obama's Controversial Domestic Doctrine

It seems every President is remembered for something. In recent decades, we recall Ronald Reagan ending the Cold War without a single shot and for making it possible for individuals to control more of their incomes (through tax cuts), and calling that (wisely) patriotic. With George H.W. Bush we saw a dramatic increase in regulations that benefited very large companies and the breaking of a "no new tax" pledge. There are few that wonder why he was only a one term president. Then there was Bill Clinton who, at first, attempted a massive take over by the federal government in health care and other industries, but was savvy enough to read the political "tea leaves" when the Republicans took over the Congress in 1994 to govern as a moderate. In fact, his biggest policy achievement may have been the ending of "welfare as we know it," which led to a dramatic decrease in the number of people below poverty level.

If you fast forward a little you find George W. Bush, who created a controversial foreign policy that became simply known as the "Bush Doctrine." The Bush Doctrine argued that the US could act unilaterally and without regard to other international organizations in protecting its interests from potential terrorists. This approach was used to pull the US out of some relationships (the ABM Treaty and Kyoto Protocol). Some have argued that the Doctrine was used as grounds for a preemptive strike against Iraq. Everyone on both the left and right debate its merits to this day. Bush was also known for setting the stage (with TARP) for a massive take over of the US economy.

So what will be Obama's policy legacy? I believe many will look back at what will be called as the "Obama Domestic Doctrine." Very early in the Obama administration, the President's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, told the Wall Street Journal that "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste, and what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you didn't think you could do before." What "things" was Emanuel talking about? Obviously the massive take over of the health care system is something they would argue because things "are not working" in that area today. More government bailouts would be a part of the Administration's solution to problems the country is facing. How about the restoration of the power of unions at the expense of the individual worker? The list goes on. As long as things are "bad," the case can be made for doing anything. It is when the economy is working well and prosperity is increasing that it becomes difficult to make the case for more government intervention.

This view by the Obama Administration is not isolated to Emanuel. Recently the Attorney General, Eric Holder, gave a speech to Boston University in which he sang the praises of the difficult times we have had in history because of the policy changes that came as the result of them. He said that "Positive change is the consequence of unfavorable and not favorable circumstance. Progress is the product of darkness, not light. Whenever you look into our past, this is true... It was economic turmoil that brought us the progressive era and the New Deal." Interestingly, on the micro level, when something goes wrong in the lives of friends or family, we want to help out temporarily so those people can get on their feet (AKA independent) again. The Obama Administration sees policies that create permanent dependence on the state as good. Those type of policies, according to Emanuel and Holder, are the result of weak economies and not ones that are prosperous. Simply put, "strong economies mean strong individuals, and that is bad." "Weak economies mean weak individuals, and that is good." I did not state it, I'm only reporting it.

With such a view that the expansion of government into areas it never had a role in historically as "good," is it safe to assume the Administration will continue to pursue policies (moratoriums on drilling, increases of minimum wage, higher taxes on businesses, etc.) that will add to our historically high unemployment and economic instability? Obama's senior advisers seem to be making just such a case.


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