Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…

Camille Paglia’s assessment of Obama’s first weeks:

Why in the cosmos would the new administration, smoothly sailing out of Obama’s classy inauguration, repeat the embarrassing blunders of Bill Clinton’s first term? …

Surely common sense would dictate that when Congress is doling out fat dollops of taxpayers’ money, due time should be delegated for sober consideration and debate. The administration’s coercive rush toward instant action, accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements of imminent catastrophe, has put its own credibility on the line.But aside from the stimulus muddle, Obama has been off to a good start. True, I was disappointed with the infestation of the new appointments list by Clinton retreads and slippery tax-dodgers. Nevertheless, I was very impressed by Obama’s relaxed, natural authority with military officers on Inauguration Day… I applauded the signal Obama sent to the world by starting the closure of the Guantánamo detention center.

As it happens, I too mostly like Obama’s early and, I think, balanced war-on-terror moves.   But the most important component of those moves, so far, is symbolic.  (Guantanamo has not actually been closed, and many key aspects of detainee treatment are still to be resolved.)  Note that the two things Paglia is most impressed by have to do, first and foremost, with image.

What about the substance?

I think the stimulus bill episode does show a willingness on Obama’s part to compromise.  While Republicans complain they have been shut out of the process, the liberal Democrats aren’t very happy either.  The final version of the bill has more tax cuts and less spending.

However, the stimulus packages also showcases Obama’s “government knows best” instinct.  He has made it clear that, in his view, an emphasis on lower taxes first and foremost is one of the “tired old theories” that have ” led us into this mess in the first place.”  (Funny how everyone thinks the crisis vindicates their own economic theories and knocks down the rival ones.)

Mind you, I don’t think Obama’s a socialist or a communist (or even a literal Communist mole, as this hilarious WorldNetDaily story claims).   I don’t believe his statism is any more fundamentally radical than that of most Democrats, including Hillary Clinton.  (Of course, after Bush, the Republicans have squandered much of their moral right to complain about statism, but that’s another story.)

Interestingly, Jacob Weisberg, no libertarian, has criticized Obama’s statement in his inaugural address that the question today “is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works—whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”  This statement, Weisberg wrote, indicates that Obama has no clear philsophy of what the proper functions and limits of government are; “whatever works” is not a real substitute, especially since there is often no simple answer to whether a program “works.”   Something that seems to “work,” for instance, may be only a short-term solution and may cause unintended cconsquences down the line.

One good thing about the past two weeks: the time of Obamania has passed.  Obama’s halo of idealism is largely gone, and that’s a good thing, because a lot of the time, visionary idealism is far more harmful to the republic than the usual vices of politics.  (Like tax-dodging-and-lobbyism shenanigans.)  His charisma has not given him the power to streamroll over the opposition.  Now, we can get down to the regular, messy business of governing and compromising.


Filed under Barack Obama, economy

2 responses to “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…

  1. Pingback: Real Clear Politics - News - Elections 2008 - Opinion - Commentary - TIME

  2. Revenant

    Of course, after Bush, the Republicans have squandered much of their moral right to complain about statism, but that’s another story

    I respectfully disagree.

    The 2000 Republican primary consisted of two statists (McCain and Bush) and one nut (Keyes). The rest of the field dropped out before anyone outside of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Delaware even had a chance to vote. The 2000 race itself was between Bush and Gore, the latter being an even worse statist than Bush and an enviro-nut on top of that. The 2004 race gave us Bush and Kerry, with Bush again being the obvious lesser evil to small-government types.

    So I don’t see how Republicans have lost the right to complain about big government. We’ve been doing the best we can with the material we had to work with. It is just that the lesser of two evils has still been entirely too, er, evil.

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