Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Republican, recently joined commentators Rush Limbaugh, Patrick Buchanan and others in using the word “socialist” to describe President Obama and his policies, and we all know what’s coming – a verbal bombardment.
Critics will call him hysterical, paranoid and stupid. They will say he is a scaremonger misusing the language for political effect. Instead of looking at where Mr. Obama’s policies are taking us, we’ll have another fight over the meaning of a word and its connotations.
So fine. Let’s drop the S-word and simply agree that Mr. Obama’s policies call for a vastly enlarged welfare state, an extraordinarily more powerful and interventionist federal government exercising ever-greater control over business firms and the economy, further redistribution of income and fewer freedoms for all.
Obviously, our current chief of state did not invent this federal intrusiveness that the Founders explicitly tried to inhibit. From very early on, there were dribs and drabs of statist ambition, though it was not until President Franklin D. Roosevelt that we had the deluge – the New Deal – much of which is still with us.
Since then, both Republican and Democratic presidents have pushed us ever further in that direction. President Johnson gave us the Great Society, its most notable program being Medicare. President Nixon talked conservative talk but gave us the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, temporary wage-and-price controls, far more regulation, and automatic Social Security increases based on inflation. He unsuccessfully sought comprehensive health care reform.
President Carter produced the Chrysler bailout and the Education Department, but he also deregulated airlines. President Reagan slowed governmental growth down some and, with the help of the Fed, broke the back of “stagflation” (inflation accompanied by low growth). President Clinton? After failing to get health care “reform,” he gave us a smaller federal government, thanks to the end of the Cold War and the consequent downsizing of the military. He signed an act that succeeded in reducing welfare rolls.
President George W. Bush lowered taxes across the board, but he also saw spending go up significantly, increased Medicare through his prescription-drug program, and gave us more bureaucracy and a heightened federal presence through the demands of his school program and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. He went along with campaign-finance legislation regulating political speech.
So we already have a country where well-intended programs have morphed into gargantuan, money-gobbling entitlements dwarfing all else in the federal budget and threatening our future well-being – where incomes are redistributed, where 145,000 pages of regulations are said by the Heritage Foundation to cost the economy $1.1 trillion a year, and the federal government is in our face everywhere we turn.
The question is whether the Obama agenda could take all of this to something like the still more overweening governmental invasiveness that much of Europe is now trying to escape, something that becomes a change in kind instead of just a change in degree, and the answer is: Look at what’s happening.
Mr. Obama has already undone Mr. Clinton’s welfare reform. The stimulus bill is a heaping helping of deficit deathliness with few compensatory benefits. The government now represents the largest percentage of the economy since World War II. The oppressively dictatorial House health bill would expand costs when the only salvation is to contain them. The government is the boss of financial institutions and much of the auto industry, massive new regulation is looming, and there is constant talk of reshaping the economy. Proposals to lessen global warming would further tax and control overtaxed businesses to restrict energy vital to economic growth with little hope of affecting climate more than an insignificant bit.
If you don’t want to call all of this and much more socialism, don’t. But it would assuredly give us a new kind of America that diminishes much that has been precious.
Jay Ambrose is the former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard.