Released in 2007, The parallels in Shlaes’ book are rather Obamanous: A historic flood in the middle of one decade causes repercussions that flow into the next, ultimately saddling America with a charismatic leader who nonetheless makes all the wrong moves during the economic crisis that followed, extending unemployment and causing a myriad of fiscal woes, not to mention growing government to a heretofore never seen gargantuan size.
Or as Paul Greenberg asks at Town Hall, “What Year Is This?”
The calendar says this is 2010 — I just looked — but there are times when current events feel more like an historical re-enactment. It could be 1937 all over again:
A president has been ushered into office on the wings of Hope and Change after a sweeping electoral triumph, and the clouds have started to lift.
Vast new programs, however debatable or constitutional their merits, have been enacted.
An economic recovery is under way, however slowly and tentatively.
And just at this delicate moment, the president decides this would be the perfect time to launch a rhetorical attack on big business, “the rich,” and capital in general. And not just a rhetorical attack. His administration has fashioned a whole new web of taxes and regulations to crack down on those evil plutocrats.
The president was Franklin Roosevelt, and his ideas about how to rev up the economy were embodied in the Revenue Act of 1935, aka the Wealth Tax:
Increase the tax on the largest incomes — up to a confiscatory level of 75 percent.
Raise estate taxes so the dead could do their share to aid the recovery — and balance the federal budget, too. At least theoretically. And perhaps only theoretically. (As usual, the richest taxpayers also were proving the most skillful at tax avoidance, or at least their lawyers, accountants and trust officers were.)
Hike the corporate income tax on the biggest corporations, those with the most employees to lay off. Another brilliant move.
Raise the tax on “excess” profits.
Impose a new tax on any corporate profits that weren’t being distributed to shareholders. To make sure the government would get its share before it was used to create jobs. Even while the administration was cutting back on its own public works projects.
And generally punish investment by those able to invest the most. That would show those whom FDR assailed as “economic royalists.” We were going to tax our way to prosperity!
Back in the ye olde days of 2004, when I was attending the Republican Convention as a newbie blogger, a liberal friend with the press corps recognized me and, half-teasing, half-mean, warned me “You’ll be back!”
He meant I would return to the left after my temporary, “misbegotten,” flirtation with the right. As a relatively new apostate, at the point, I felt a small guilty frisson.
Six years later that seems pretty ridiculous. Now I would just laugh and ask “To what?” Liberalism no longer exists. There is no there.
No one really wants more government spending (or admits to it) and, without government spending, what is liberalism, as it is commonly referred to in our culture? (I’m not talking about the real liberalism of other centuries.)
An obvious case in point is the tap-dance being performed on Bloomberg today by writers Courtney Schlisserman and Shobhana Chandra under the Orwellian headline Economy Is Improving, More Stimulus Isn’t the Answer, Rubin, O’Neill Say. Stimulus, once the be all and end all of something, seems to be about as popular these days as the measles.
And what about an end to tax cuts? Nyet for the middle class (for the time-being, of course), says Robert Rubin, one of the country’s premiere liberal economists and a man widely credited for the Clinton Boom. And he doesn’t really define, at least in this article, what he means by the middle class. To someone like Rubin, that could be anything up to five million a year.
So liberalism – qu’est-ce que c’est?
Well, at this point you could call it kind of an employment mafia for union and government workers – only without the good spaghetti recipes. And without those recipes, who wants it?
Maybe that’s the “change” Barack Obama was talking about. He’s going to be the Last Liberal. All by himself.
But as I’ve written before, while America’s Ruling Class faces possible extinction, they’re not going out without a fight.
Which is why it’s time to meet the next potential Emmanuel Goldstein, aka, “progressive public enemy number one.”
Related: Michel Ledeen on “Peggy Noonan and the American Spirit.”