Monday, June 09, 2008

What Obama Believes

Barack Obama gave this speech three years ago this month. It has some interesting insights into his view of the proper role of government. Take this section:

[...] Once again, there are those who believe that there isn't much we can do about this as a nation. That the best idea is to give everyone one big refund on their government—divvy it up by individual portions, in the form of tax breaks, hand it out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, their own education, and so on.

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it—Social Darwinism—every man or woman for him or herself. It's a tempting idea, because it doesn't require much thought or ingenuity. It allows us to say that those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford—tough luck. It allows us to say to the Maytag workers who have lost their job—life isn't fair. It let's us say to the child who was born into poverty—pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And it is especially tempting because each of us believes we will always be the winner in life's lottery, that we're the one who will be the next Donald Trump, or at least we won't be the chump who Donald Trump says: "You're fired!"

But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. It ignores the fact that it's been government research and investment that made the railways possible and the internet possible. It's been the creation of a massive middle class, through decent wages and benefits and public schools that allowed us all to prosper. Our economic dependence depended on individual initiative. It depended on a belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity. That's what's produced our unrivaled political stability.

An unintentional irony is that this was a commencement address. It is ironic because he quotes so much misinformation to graduating students.

The most important thought here is that allowing people to spend their own money on health care, child care, etc. is wrong. Obama believes that it is the responsibility of the government to make these very personal choices for you.

Other points - he totally misuses the term Social Dawrinism. He also totally misunderstands the role that private investment played in the railroads. For example, the first trans-continental railroad was privately chartered and federally backed. In fact, the railroad mis-managed federal subsidies in a major scandal which ended up determining a presidential election. This is not exactly the sort of ringing endorsement for government intervention that Obama believes it to be.

A different quote:
When the irrational exuberance of the Roaring Twenties came crashing down with the stock market, we had to decide: do we follow the call of leaders who would do nothing, or the call of a leader who, perhaps because of his physical paralysis, refused to accept political paralysis?
FDR's handling of the Great Depression was one of the worst things to happen to the US economy in the last century. His economic advisers believed that the problem was that the economy had grown too large and that the solution was to permanently limit the economy to around 2/3s the size it had been before 1929. From statements that he has made elsewhere, Obama may believe that the current US economy needs to be shrunken.

A few months ago he said "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK." His commencement speech had a longer version showing that that this was no off-the-cuff comment.

All of that is possible but none of it will come easy. Every one of us is going to have to work more, read more, train more, think more. We will have to slough off some bad habits—like driving gas guzzlers that weaken our economy and feed our enemies abroad. Our children will have to turn off the TV set once in a while and put away the video games and start hitting the books. We'll have to reform institutions, like our public schools, that were designed for an earlier time. Republicans will have to recognize our collective responsibilities, even as Democrats recognize that we have to do more than just defend old programs.

This is another recurring theme with the Obamas - that Barack's election will be the first step in changing Americans. Remember this quote from his wife?
Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

An Obama presidency sounds like a lot of work. It is also part of the recurring messiah theme. If you come to Obama he will heal your soul.

Anyway, I think that it is instructive to see what Obama was saying three years ago where fewer people were listening. It gives us a better idea of what his real beliefs are and what sort of change he believes in.

No comments: