Is Obama’s Agenda Extreme?

I think it is pretty clear that the Democrats are in for a drubbing this November.  The only question really is whether the results are devastating — simply losing a closely divided House and maintaining control of a closely divided Senate — or catastrophic — losing 80+ House seats and control of the Senate.

Most Democrats — like me — see this as a consequence of a poor economy, which is largely attributable to Bush policies such as a running massive deficits during economic expansion, lack of regulation/intervention in the housing bubble and the toleration of fraudulent practices by financial firms.  Democrats do acknowledge some blame for Obama, notably in his failure to feed the Democratic base with any regularity.

But Republicans, of course, see things differently.  They see the chickens coming home to roost in response to Obama’s extreme, left-wing agenda.  I really would like to say that I acknowledge that both sides are making good points, and that a statesman able to chart a middle course — a bipartisan course — would be better.  But I just can’t see the argument.  I simply cannot see how Obama’s policies are extreme.

Let’s consider health care, which, yes, has people up in arms.  And I do indeed agree that intelligent people can disagree on the ACA.  One could argue, inter alia, that the bill is too costly, does not do enough to bend the cost-curve, and fails to address some significant issues such as tort reform.  But that is not what I hear when I read right-wing columnists, or listen to Republican politicians, and talk to conservative

Instead, I get assailed with crazy talk such as the notion that “Obamacare” reflects a “government takeover” of 1/6th of the economy.  I mean, that isn’t just a disagreement over terms.  It is simply put a lie.   There was no nationalization of the health care sector.  Good grief there isn’t even an option for people to buy insurance from the government even if they wanted to! People are “required” to buy insurance, but they can waive this “requirement” by paying a $750 fee, which as a practical matter would not even cover one month of a decent family plan.  The insurance companies are facing significant additional regulation, but even there the most stringent regulations will only be for companies that CHOOSE to participate in the exchanges.

I can see disliking the bill — believing it does either too much or too little, or seeing it as too expensive, or any number of things.  But calling the Obama health care bill an act of extremism is just a lunatic claim.

I don’t agree with a lot that occurred in the Bush/Obama reaction to the financial crisis.  I think the bailouts were a terrible mistake.  We should have allowed the financial institutions to fail, and certainly should not have intervened with the auto companies.  But my view of the financial institutions issue is actually more extreme than what occurred because had we followed my course of action, we’d all be borrowing directly from the government since there would be no private institutions left.  The financial firms bailout is the only reason a private financial sector exists today.  It was not a government takeover of the financial sector, it was government action to ensure that a private financial sector continued to exist.

The auto company bailout is another issue.  And yes, I agree that the decision to benefit the UAW over boldholders was an unwarranted intervention in the free market.  But having given billions to Wall Street firms, I can see how it would be hard to justify tossing thousands of blue collar workers onto the street.  But okay, controversial issue, and it could be read as an act of left-wing extremism if one insists on taking it out of context.

On taxes… Obama has continued to cut taxes for most Americans.  The relatively minor tax increases for people over $250k still leaves wealthier Americans paying lower federal tax rates than any time since the 1930s.  Yes, the wealthy are paying a high percentage of total tax receipts, but they also have a greater concentration of wealth than at any time since at least the 1930s.  It isn’t that the wealthier are paying ever higher taxes, it is that they are controlling ever larger shares of national assets and incomes.  And for all the talk about Obama’s “socialism”  none of his current proposals would even come close to reversing that dynamic.

Anyway, I’m not trying to convince people to vote for Obama. There is a lot to disagree with.  But calling the man’s policies “extreme” is simply not defensible.  Our “freedoms” are not being curtails — except through the continuation of post 9/11 counter-terrorism measures.  Obama did not takeover the health care sector.  We’re seeing a little more regulation, and a slight increase in the progressivity of our tax system.  On foreign policy, there is not a dime’s worth of difference between Obama and Bush.  Hell, Obama kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense and appointed Bush’s favorite general to run the war in Afghanistan! Obama, by the way, also kept on Bush’s Republican Chairman of the Fed in place.

You can disagree with Obama.  Vote against him.  Whatever.  But calling his agenda extreme is just f__ing insane.

3 comments to Is Obama’s Agenda Extreme?

  • Andy

    Yeah, it’s the economy. And even if one believes Bush is completely or mostly to blame for that (a questionable proposition), the fact remains that President Obama did not meet expectations. He came into office and said his policies would do certain things, the policies were implemented and the predictions about what would happen didn’t materialize. That can’t be pinned on Bush and the Democrats are paying a political price. Then, for whatever reason, he pushed for a healthcare bill that won’t even come into effect until after the next Presidential election. The Democrats spent a bunch of political capital in an ugly process on something that isn’t going to benefit then politically for at least two election cycles. And the reason the healthcare bill doesn’t take effect until then is due to the President’s own making – he set a limit on how much it should cost over the next decade (~900 billion) which forced the Congress to delay benefit implementation until 2014. In hindsight, Democrats should have taken the hit for spending a lot more than that and implementing the bill earlier.

    Whether or not Obama’s agenda is “extreme” is a matter of perspective. I don’t agree with a lot of his policies, but I don’t think they are “extreme.” Obviously, others can and do disagree.

  • [...] another perspective on this see “Is Obama’s Agenda Extreme?“, Bernard Finel (Assoc Prof, National War College), 4 September [...]

  • [...] “Is Obama’s Agenda Extreme?“, Bernard Finel (Prof, National War College), 4 September 2010 [...]

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