President Obama’s speech Tuesday night should put to rest the argument as to who he really is. He revealed plans so sweeping and so expensive that, if they came to pass, we would permanently refashion the role of the federal government in the lives of every American.
During the campaign certain Republicans and libertarians tried to convince us Obama was a moderate, a sort of Bill Clinton “third way” reformer — and certainly no radical as conservatives claimed. Conservatives remained skeptical. Then during the transition, the debate as to Obama’s political philosophy continued. He sprinkled his cabinet with sober figures and experienced economic gurus. So perhaps he was moderate in outlook and restrained in ambition.
Next came the stimulus plan. Yes, he delegated the entire enterprise to Nancy Pelosi and the liberal draftsmen in Congress. But perhaps this was an error in judgment, a departure from what he “really” wanted in order to achieve a stimulus plan.
Well, the mystery has been solved. Obama is an unalloyed and extreme liberal. He does not intend merely to slay the recession. He intends to remake the country’s education, health care, and energy policies, with a hugely expanded and enormously powerful federal government directing vast swatches of American life and industry.
As Peter Baker of the New York Times put it:
His ideas for raising taxes on the wealthy, revamping the health care system, and reversing climate change represent a philosophical agenda that strikes at the heart of the other party’s core beliefs. While he said he did not believe in “bigger government,” he proposed a more activist government than any other since Lyndon B. Johnson.
This has relatively little, of course, to do with the recession. But Rahm Emanuel already told us that the administration regards the recession as an “opportunity” too good to waste.
The enormity of the president’s plans raise multiple questions: How will we pay for it? Is this what voters want? Is a government-directed health care system and a cap-and-trade carbon emissions regime compatible with a vibrant and innovative free market system?
But we did get some important answers last night, if not to those queries, then as to large political and philosophical ones. Just as the speech solved the mystery of who it was that we have elected as the 44th president, it also to a large degree defined the road Republicans must take in opposition and their path to recovery as a viable national political force.
It seems eons ago that in the aftermath of the election Republicans debated where they wanted to go as a political party and what they should do next. Throw out social conservatives, some suggested. Get rid of big-government moderates, others retorted. Pundits debated whether to advocate reform or return to the party’s roots, or whether the former could rely on the latter for inspiration. But now it is crystal clear what the party’s task must be: defend the free market and oppose the vast expansion of government which the president envisions. There is no getting around it. The opposition party must oppose.