To our liberal friends out there I ask for your indulgence. I have been thinking quite a lot about the presidency over the last couple of days and the power we have vested in the institution. (Or perhaps more accurately the power that has been taken by the institution.)
Presidents always seem to want more power. Republican or Democrat this has been true. But I think this has been particularly true for our current president. (And Bush 2 was no slouch in this department either, indeed Bush set the climate for our current situation.)
I think part of this is because Obama like so many Democrats looks to FDR as some sort of presidential ideal. This is a tragedy. FDR is not someone to emulate. At least not if one wants this country to remain (such as it is) a free one.
No doubt I will annoy some with this piece and that is just fine with me.
When I was a child I was often warned of the rise of “charismatic leaders” who would use the role of president to expand government and to further limit individual liberty.
This didn’t come from parents and grandparents who were of the libertarian disposition. Far from it. They were basically right of center Republicans who generally liked Reagan and didn’t like Carter. Not too exotic.
But they were informed by World War II and the Cold War acutely. In the case of my grandparents they remembered Hitler, indeed they fought against him, literally. They remember Japan, and Mussolini, and the dead and the damaged. They remembered the Depression. And they remembered FDR.
My grandmother considered him a near dictator (if not an actual dictator) who took this country to the edge of totalitarianism. He was out of control, expanded government by fiat, sought to stack the Supreme Court, engaged in make work projects which just wasted money, etc. She was not a fan. Many people were not fans.
But this picture of FDR stands in contrast to the figure created by a compliant media over the last 85 years. That of a benevolent leader, who looked out for the “little guy” (like sending them to war), who did what he did to “save” America from depression. (His policies actually prolonged the Depression, the reason it was so “great” versus other depressions is because the government got so involved.) So he ran roughshod over the Constitution. So what? He was a man of action. Just like other “men of action” of his time who ran the great countries of the world. The Constitution was antiquated anyway. Forward to a shining socially engineered future!
A real examination of the liberties FDR took with the United States could fill a very thick volume. But let’s remember a few of his greatest hits.
He granted diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union even in the face of “dekulakization” which was a policy which starved millions of Ukrainians to death.
He confiscated all the gold held by private citizens. Then in the next year raised the price by a ⅓ by fiat.
He put US citizens – citizens – of Japanese descent into concentration camps for years, destroying their lives, livelihoods, neighborhoods, and spirit. (In some cases.)
As stated above his economic policies actually EXTENDED the Great Depression.
The cartels and monopolies created under the New Deal slowed the economy, undermined the entrepreneurial spirit (and self reliance) of the American people. Indeed it laid the foundation for the current crony state. Our crony capitalist economy would not be what it is today without the New Deal. (This is counter intuitive for many but with the expanded state comes expanded corporate power. That’s just the way it is.)
He tried to stack the Supreme Court and intimidated them ultimately into granting him vast new powers through a tortured understanding of the Interstate Commerce Clause. Suddenly anything which “affected” commerce was the Federal government’s business.
These are just some of FDR’s “violations,” there are, as we said many many more.
And yet FDR is held up as a near god by some. Kennedy was pretty, but FDR grew the state and turned the country into a quazi-socialist (and fundamentally corporatist) state. That was real PROGRESS. Government running everything. Planners from Washington dictating the goings on of the nation in the name of PROGRESS. That this PROGRESS had the odor of a special American version of fascism was OK. It was PROGRESS, and FDR was a lefty so he couldn’t be a fascist right? He took us to war with Hitler after all. Problem solved. Done and done.
And so the myth for some still lives. It lives for this president and many of the people who share his worldview.
In 2009, Barack Obama, a young, hardly tested golden child of the mid-far Left had made it to the White House. That he was black was almost beyond belief. (I would have put serious money on the first black president being a Republican – the electoral politics just work better.) It truly was an historic moment in that regard. And the far left, which had been long marginalized by the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party could hardly believe their good fortune. The liberals were back baby!
A fairly far Left black president. A Democratic Congress. And perhaps most of all a new economic depression which would allow the big government types to further consolidate power in Washington DC. CHANGE was on the way. And Obama, immature but ambitious could taste his legacy. He would bring a New New Deal. Plus he would give out favors not only to organized labor like FDR did but to new constituencies in the cities and in the environmental community.
The media celebrated his rise. Constant pro-Obama propaganda came from everywhere. In my own hometown, Charlottesville Virginia there was a giant re-rendering of the Obama “Hope” poster on the city downtown mall overlooking pedestrians. It was straight out of Nicaragua or something. (It came down shortly.) Hope for some. The opposite for many.
Unlike FDR however Obama did not have total control over the media. Soon it was clear that Obama wasn’t in for the cake walk many had thought he would enjoy.
The most important civil movement since the civil rights movement, the TEA Party (Taxed Enough Already) rose up to oppose the expansion of the state. Born in the truly grassroots effort to get Ron Paul elected president, now completely disgusted with Bush who had bailed out the banks and gotten us lodged in Iraq, the TEA Party was born (version 2) on tax day 2009. I remember, I spoke with about 20 others at a rally not far from the the giant “Hope” painting on the downtown mall. There were probably 2000 people at the rally at its peak. (Charlottesville is a liberal and small town so that is really remarkable.) And rallies like this one happened all across the country.
Suddenly millions of people organized themselves via the Internet to oppose Obama’s power grab. The people said “NO!” This stands in stark contrast to FDR’s experience.
And the opposition never stopped. Though the Dems were able to squeeze through a ridiculously convoluted healthcare program via some procedural magic, with time Obamacare seems to have fairly quickly eroded. Obamacare today is not what the Dems had hoped it would be back in 2009.
And that is pretty much Obama’s biggest “win.”
With time the American people replaced the Dem congress with a Republican one. Obama was forced to more or less continue Bush’s neoconservative ways in the Middle East. (Sadly.) The “stimulus,” a vehicle designed to transfer taxpayer money to cronies in industry and government was soon recognized as such and is now widely resented by the American people. Welfare is up massively. Food stamps are up massively. The unemployment rate, though down, is widely recognized as a political number with little economic weight. (Think about it, we are supposed to be at 5% unemployment, far below what I was taught was “full employment” – the employment number which reflects only friction during job changes not trouble with the economy. In other words at “full employment” everyone has a full time job if one wants one. That certainly isn’t the case today, yet we are at 5%. So OK.) The world economy, even at this late date (in Obama’s presidency) remains basically in recession. New threats are emerging out of wars we supposedly ended. Obama isn’t respected overseas. American resolve is questioned.
Even though Obama was re-elected, he is basically a failed president. You might like him. You might like what he stands for. You might wish that things had gone better for Obama, but they didn’t and that’s because in an age when the average person has access to the Internet, and can educate himself or herself as to the actual goings on of government, a New Deal 2 just ain’t gonna fly. FDR relied on widespread ignorance to further his agenda, Obama did not have the same luxury.
And thank God.
Of course Obama still has a year to go. And then after him who knows who’s coming.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. (The past few years have really taught me what these words mean. And we need to be even more vigilant.)