Reading two recent essays, I was struck by how they put forth contesting views of the ideological struggle that lies before us. To put it plainly, the way forward is either that of a new conservative reformism, or the growth of a new American path to socialism.
The first is presented in journals like National Affairs and The New Atlantis, both affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center. In thoughtful and penetrating articles, the writers in these journals address the kind of serious alternatives to liberalism and social-democracy that go beyond attacks on the current policies of the Obama administration. The case for moving our country to socialism is one presented in scores of upcoming conferences, including this one that brings together the supposedly democratic Democratic Socialists of America and the totalitarian Communist Party USA. The case is also made in many left publications, including, of course, The Nation magazine in particular, as well as in many other lesser-known vehicles.
The first article I read is by historian Robert W. Merry, editor of The National Interest, in which he has written “The Myth of a Moderate Obama.” Merry’s article is not just a case for explicating the nature of Obama’s real agenda, it is a stark juxtaposition of the differences between a socialist or social-democratic future and one that accepts the limits of a growing entitlement state. Merry begins by stating what Obama hopes to achieve before he leaves the White House, and his statement brings to mind the president’s 2008 campaign promise that we were minutes away from attaining “the fundamental transformation” of America:
The greatest myth in American politics today is the view, perpetrated by the Democratic Left and elements of the news media, that Barack Obama is a political moderate. In truth he represents an ideology that is barely within the American mainstream as understood over two and a quarter centuries of political experience. … [His] agenda turns on a number of pivots related mostly to the size and role of government and its level of intrusiveness into the lives of Americans. If Obama has his way through the remainder of his presidency, and he thoroughly intends to, he will leave behind an American polity very different from the one he inherited.
As Merry continues, he writes of the fault line that exists:
[It] has divided those who wish to enhance and aggrandize the power of government and those who fear the abuse of unchecked governmental prerogative. Every citizen with a political consciousness stands on one side or the other of that divide. Those who want more power invested in government are liberals; those who don’t are conservatives. Thus can one determine the fundamental political outlook of his fellow citizens though this one litmus test.
Merry uses the term “liberal”; I think it more accurate to say “social-democratic” or “socialist,” since in reality, most self-proclaimed “liberals” are in fact, even if they do not realize it, already in the socialist camp. They have moved far from the old liberalism to where European leftists were decades earlier.
Merry moves through a brief history of where different administrations lay in this division, from the earliest days of our republic up to the present. As he puts it, one group shared a commitment to lower taxes, small government, and respect for the Constitution; the other favored “governmental aggrandizement,” a vast expansion of the powers of the federal government, and a larger government bureaucracy to enforce the new measures.
FDR may have been both popular and successful, but Merry singles him out for waging an “economic assault on the nation’s wealthy” and of starting the tradition of waging class warfare and encouraging populist upheaval by irresponsible rhetoric. The result, he writes, was “a new America with a much larger and more intrusive government.”
Merry argues that at present, Barack Obama seeks to build upon what FDR and Lyndon Johnson began by creating a “new era of big government,” using a new tax code as his ideological weapon and class-baiting as the tactic for gathering support. Obama Care, Dodd-Frank, and other measures vastly increase government’s reach and power, and his desire for power has bred “contempt for the legislative and judicial branches of government.” Rather than accept reality and acknowledge that our entitlement system is out of control and responsible for our plight, Obama seeks a “class-driven assault” on House Republicans which he hopes will divert the public’s attention away from any serious proposals to put a stop to growing entitlements.