Morning Jay: What's So Bad About Obama?
6:00 AM, Jan 27, 2012 • By JAY COST
In his latest Bloomberg column, Ezra Klein pushes back on the GOP critique of the president. As far as he is concerned, the president is really a pragmatic center-leftist.
From a certain perspective, I think Klein is right: Obama is not “radical,” at least not in the way we usually define the concept. But that actually points to the big the problem with this president and his worldview. The progressive ideology dating back to the turn of the last century, and in which Obama is comfortably situated, was never really about overturning the established order, but rather in co-opting it.
For instance, the Bull Moosers of 1912 wanted to regulate the “great malefactors of wealth,” as TR put it, but they also were happy to keep the protective tariff regime, which was the source of that wealth in the first place. Similarly, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) and the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) – the two hallmarks of the First New Deal – were all about grand bargains between government, labor, farmers, and capital owners. The point was to draw all classes to the bargaining table, with the meeting chaired by the progressives, naturally. So it goes for modern-day progressivism. Both Clintoncare and Obamacare did not try to implement “socialized medicine,” but rather strike a grand bargain that would encompass all of the “stakeholders” to manage the nation’s health care.
So, Klein is also correct in that Obama has not set out to destroy capitalism. He is no socialist in the traditional sense of the word. He is not interested in controlling the means of production, as Marx put it. He’s happy to let commerce and industry remain in private hands, but that does not mean he's a free market advocate in any politically relevant sense of the phrase. He wants the free market to do its thing, so long as the government can socialize an ever-greater amount of the profit, and also take an intimate role in managing the private sector to “socially beneficial” ends.
This view of government has long provoked a very intense, negative reaction from a broad class of Americans. Skepticism of an interventionist government date back to Jefferson and Jackson, who both feared the nexus of big business and big government. Woodrow Wilson designed his “New Freedom” program precisely to combat TR’s “New Nationalism” during the 1912 campaign, but the ever-pragmatic Wilson ended up implementing most of the Bull Moosers' program once in office. It’s oft-forgotten, but FDR’s First New Deal infuriated many establishment Democrats like John Davis (1924 nominee), John Jakob Raskob (former DNC Chair), and Al Smith (1928 nominee). And as soon as the “Solid South” went from being benefit-receivers to benefit-payers in the progressive scheme, they started bolting (with the first revolt coming as early as 1937).
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