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Obama’s Biggest First Term Failure: Forcefully Articulating a Rebuke of Reaganism

In 2011, government actually is the solution, Ronnie.

I think if the President had spent the last three years repeating some variation of this, he’d be in much better shape — as would the Democratic Party.

It is the refuge of a scoundrel to pretend to hate government, and further, to lie about the role that the American government — the richest and most powerful force for good in the long story of humanity — has played in the creation of the most profound economic engine ever, the America middle class. Notions of American greatness are inextricably intertwined with the American government, and anyone who claims that the government has only been an impediment to American progress is a liar, a fool, a rank opportunist, or a combination of the three. That GI Bill didn’t create itself. That Interstate Highway System didn’t build itself. Those astronauts didn’t send themselves to the moon. Your grandmamma and them didn’t get electricity in their farmhouse on their own initiative. Small business didn’t create a vast system of free public education, because an educated population makes for good workers and consumers. That was the government. The miracle of the free market didn’t end slavery, or solve the pernicious problem that followed of grotesquely institutionalized racism. Nor did the free market end child labor, and decide that food and worker safety were critical values to a civilized society, and essential to a civilized standard of living. That was the government, too.

The debates on the left about how much Obama could’ve accomplished given the GOP’s unprecedented obstructionism and the corporatist Democrats in Congress will never end. But Obama didn’t need Ben Nelson’s or the Blue Dogs’ permission to methodically lay out an affirmative argument for government.

Since 1981, we’ve had three decades of Republicans saying government is the root of all evil. Republican contempt of government, and Democratic appeasement, got us in the mess we’re in: rank criminality in our financial system, a corrosive concentration of wealth at the top, a crumbling infrastructure, failing schools, unsustainable health care costs, a failing middle class and a fraying social safety net. All in an era of record corporate profits.

The choice voters will be faced with in 2012 is between a party that wants to privatize everything from Social Security to FEMA, and a party that wants to…? What exactly?

After three years, I don’t know that many voters can answer that question, and that’s a problem for Obama.


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