Commentary Magazine


The Era of Big Government Is Only Getting Warmed Up

The president’s address tonight comes at an interesting juncture. The stimulus has passed, but the administration is backpedaling on just how much good it is going to do and how quickly we will feel its effects. The mortgage bailout plan has induced a populist backlash. And the financial sector is paralyzed with fear. Despite promises of fiscal responsibility, there is nothing but government spending and rising deficits in the near term.

The New York Times hints at the dilemma:

It was only 13 years ago that Bill Clinton declared before a joint session of Congress that “the era of big government is over.” President Obama’s challenge on Tuesday night is to declare that, out of ugly necessity, big government is back — and then to make a persuasive case, with a specificity he has avoided until now, that if done right, this era will not last for long.

Well, that’s a nice sentiment, but it simply isn’t true. Much of the spending from the stimulus won’t kick in for a number of years (i.e. we have only begun to spend). Healthcare spending will escalate enormously if Obama has his way. And the government’s plans to make the auto companies wards of the state show no indication that this will be a brief spell of co-dependency.

Indeed, the reality is that the actions of the administration suggest a daunting growth in the size and scope of government. If Obama and his media fan-club feel the need to disguise all of that, maybe that’s because it’s an unpopular prospect for voters and markets. Obama can choose to paper over that rather stark ideological decision, or he can explain why this growth is a good and desirable thing. Judging from the “fiscal responsibility” summit, I suspect we’ll get the former – and a lecture about why we should stop bickering and engaging in “old partisan battles.” (Translation: stop defending free markets and objecting to our lurch to the Left.)