Obama’s Stealth Revolution
While progressives are kvetching and conservatives are chortling over President Obama’s failures to enact his most visible policy initiatives, he’s quietly ratcheting federal control of society up to unprecedented levels.
In a lengthy TNR feature, John Judis details how “Obama has reinvented the state in more ways than you can imagine.”
Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.
He details something Dave Schuler has been stressing for some time: Obama’s confidence in an ability to micro-manage the economy with scientific efficiency. The myriad ways that the revival of this repudiated view of governance has shaped Obama’s first year is explored in Judis’ piece and defies excerpting. I encourage you to read it.
Via Mark Kleiman, I see that Norman Ornstein argues that, despite the embarrassment thus far on health care reform, “this Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president — and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record accomplishment.”
This argument is a tad dubious, however, because almost all of the “achievements” are a function of having passed the massive “stimulus” bill. Then again, as I argued at the time, it was pretty clear that, while stimulating the economy was indeed a desired impact — and one that was achieved at least somewhat, although we can argue about the efficiency — “stimulus” soon became a justification for passing a myriad of spending programs Democrats wanted irrespective of the state of the economy.