Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Obama’s Triumphal Statist Presidency

In the March/April issue of the Washington Monthly, Paul Glastris offers a long essay in defense of Barack Obama. Titled, “The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama,” it is, in its own way, the clearest and most helpful analysis of the Obama presidency that’s been written so far. Glastris’s main contention is that Obama has “gotten more done in three years than any president in decades.” Yet, “the American public still thinks he hasn’t accomplished anything.” He’s right:

Measured in sheer legislative tonnage, what Obama got done in his first two years is stunning. Health care reform. The takeover and turnaround of the auto industry. The biggest economic stimulus in history. Sweeping new regulations of Wall Street. A tough new set of consumer protections on the credit card industry. A vast expansion of national service. Net neutrality. The greatest increase in wilderness protection in fifteen years. A revolutionary reform to student aid. Signing the New START treaty with Russia. The ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Glastris has unwittingly created a glossary of radical statism as a defense of Obama. His own words: “legislative tonnage,” “reform,” “takeover,” “biggest stimulus in history,” “sweeping regulations,” “protection,” “vast expansion,” “Net neutrality,” “greatest increase” in still more “protection,” and “revolutionary reform.” To liberals, this is the poetry of paternalism but to the rest of America it’s a nightmare lexicon.

Glastris is equally candid about the long-term impact of these policies. “Some are structured to have modest effects now but major ones later,” he writes. “Others emerged in a crimped and compromised form that, if history is a guide, may well be filled out and strengthened down the road.” In other words, Obama initiatives that look measured or restrained today will only expand and calcify in time. He makes the comparison to FDR’s creation of Social Security. “Only in subsequent decades, as benefits were raised and expanded, did Social Security become the country’s most beloved government program.” Right, and only in decades subsequent to that did it become an unsustainable addiction that we can neither stop nor afford in its present form.

So, the case for Obama’s greatness goes as follows: He came to office with an array of statist notions. He forced “the sheer tonnage” of them upon the country. And he will leave the rest of the leftist dream’s fleshing out to that inexorable statist force-multiplier: time.

You start to see why Obama is okay being thought of as merely ineffective.

As for the foreign policy mentions, it’s a different matter altogether and one that Glastris never really unpacks after that paragraph. But even the administration now understands that its Russia policy is a disaster. And even if you approve the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” you must acknowledge that it’s been replaced with the catastrophic Obama-instituted military doctrine of “don’t win, don’t lose.”