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Obama's Kinder, Gentler America?

12:00 AM, Jan 26, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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Conservatives have no equally coherent vision on offer, at least not one likely to attract massive voter support. Conservatives of an earlier day could not accept the changes introduced by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and wandered the political wilderness predicting the end of the world, at least as they knew it, rather than attempting to see how the liberal reforms of FDR could be made to work more efficiently in a capitalist system. So, too, many of today’s rightish politicians, with the honorable exceptions of such as Paul Ryan. Rather than recognizing that the some of the transformations proposed by Obama might make the banking system more responsive to the needs of consumers and the economy, most conservatives speak wildly of repealing the Dodd-Frank reform law. Rather than recognizing that there are aspects of Obamacare that a decent society might find acceptable, some conservatives plot its repeal. Rather than recognizing that rising income inequality is indeed a problem, and suggesting solutions other than redistributive taxes, conservative politicians shout “no, never” to tax increases they do not have the political power to prevent. Rather than recognizing that a properly functioning capitalist economy requires action to preserve competition, they rail against antitrust enforcement.

So we can see the shape of the America Barack Obama will leave to his successor, his legacy. Those among us who believe that incomes are now unfairly distributed to favor the rich, will see a fairer America. Those who believe the globe is warming, will happily see a greener America, with lower carbon emissions. Those who believe that government does not spend, but “invests,” will view with equanimity the $20 trillion debt that Obama will leave to his children and ours.

On the other hand, those who believe that taxing high earners stifles innovation and hard work; that forced use of inefficient energy sources will drive up costs and make the nation less competitive; that printing money will lead to inflation; and that governments allocate resources less efficiently than profit-seeking individuals, will spend the next four years figuring out how to elect a president who shares their worries and can stop the liberal drift, even if unable to reverse it. Their task might be a bit more likely to succeed if they injected a bit of “neo” into their conservatism.

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