Here’s George Packer in the New Yorker:
For the first time since the Johnson Administration, the idea that government should take bold action to create equal opportunity for all citizens doesn’t have to explain itself in a defensive mumble. That idea is ascendant in 2008 because it answers the times.
Actually, that idea has created the times. It was the government’s “bold action to create equal opportunity for all citizens” that forced Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase and securitize the mortgages of unstable borrowers. In 2008, American citizens have equal opportunity. Come 2009 . . . we’ll see.
But for Packer, equal opportunity is not enough. He is happy about the fact that Obama has been influenced by Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge, which is about “ways of helping people to make better choices without requiring anybody to do anything. It’s a conception of government that is reluctant to impose mandates and bans but is kind of shrewd about enlisting what we know about human behavior in good directions.” As an American, I can’t think of a more haunting description of government.
A passive-aggressive socialist state — that’s the change we’ve been waiting for? That’s worse than a purely aggressive one. You’ll fight like hell if some goons barge into your home and make you put half your wages into fund X. But if you’re just “nudged” into it bit-by-bit, you’ll surrender your free will over the long haul without a fight.
Out of all the predictions about an Obama presidency, this one seems most on target to me. Read that creepy, social-engineering blather above and recall all Obama’s campaign pledges to protect borrowers from villainous fine print. Cast your mind back to when Michelle Obama told a crowd that her husband would make them “push yourselves to be better.” Or remember how Joe Biden asked supporters to resist the future urge to say, “Whoa, wait a minute, yo, whoa, whoa, I don’t know about that decision,” under an Obama administration. Consider that Obama told Joe Wurzelbacher that the government is better suited to spread Joe’s wealth than he is.
Packer quotes Obama approvingly: “Our history should give us confidence that we don’t have to choose between an oppressive government-run economy and a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism.” Personally, I see no need for a third option, being a proponent of “chaotic and unforgiving” capitalism. (Hey, Packer, remind me: what’s your per-word rate?) But I’m sure I can be nudged into changing my mind.