All of a sudden, this election is shaping up as a verdict on capitalism. The Obama campaign wanted it to be about George W. Bush. The McCain campaign wanted it to be about character. But instead, because the markets are shooting off in all directions like bullets from a dropped pistol, the stakes have suddenly been raised dramatically.
We are in the midst of the worst panic in history, it's true (because it is global). But as historian John Steele Gordon helpfully pointed on in the Wall Street Journal, panics are not unusual in American history. We've experienced them almost every 20 years since 1819. Gordon blames Thomas Jefferson, which is intriguing, but the point is that we've always emerged from these periodic paroxysms intact and our economy has continued to grow. Gordon believes more sensible banking policy would prevent future panics. But if we elect a crypto-socialist like Barack Obama and give him a bigger Democrat majority in the House and a filibuster-proof Senate, banking regulation may be the least of our troubles.
Well, you may say, “Win some, lose some. McCain isn't all that great anyway. Conservatives and Republicans will simply have to examine their consciences and come up with a winning strategy for next time.” Perhaps. But there are a few problems with that sanguine approach.
In the first place, the Democrats can, with a super-majority, change the rules of the game. They can make the District of Columbia the 51st state with two new senators (guaranteed to be Democrats in perpetuity). They can reinstitute the so-called Fairness Doctrine that required radio stations to provide equal time to all political viewpoints. While the doctrine was enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, radio stations shied away from politics altogether. With the demise of the doctrine, conservative talk radio flourished. Liberal talk radio has never found much of an audience. Reviving the doctrine would kill one of the principal irritants to liberals and Democrats — to say nothing of disemboweling the First Amendment.
To elect a super-majority of Democrats at a time of economic dislocation is to flirt with depression. Nearly all economists agree that two moves by the Hoover administration deepened and prolonged the panic of 1929 and turned it into the Great Depression. One was raising taxes and the other was imposing protectionist trade policies. Senator Obama proposes to do both of those things. Obama's smooth reassurance that only the top 5 percent of earners in America will see their taxes rise is a) almost certainly false, and b) besides the point. If the most productive members of society — those who create the majority of jobs — are taxed we will have fewer jobs. It's the old rule that if you tax something you get less of it. While Obama is killing jobs by taxing the productive, he proposes to “renegotiate” NAFTA and other trade deals thus putting the one bright corner of our economy, the export sector, in his crosshairs.
Obama has a million schemes to redistribute the wealth of the top 5 percent, (who by the way, already pay more than 50 percent of the taxes in our steeply progressive system). He wants to provide college for “anyone who wants to go and agrees to perform community service,” and community development block grants, and childcare, and universal pre-school, and housing, and retirement and on and on. He seems determined that more people will ride in the wagon than pull it.
“Well,” you may say, “if the Democrats drive the country into a deep recession, so much the worse for them. The Republicans will come back strong — even with two senators from DC!” Perhaps. But in hard times people tend to ask for more government, not less, and this tumble started while George W. Bush was in the White House. Franklin Roosevelt continued to invoke the boogey man of Herbert Hoover long after the Depression was his own. In fact, Democrats used Hoover successfully for 40 more years!
Finally, there is a one-way ratchet in public policy. Liberal reforms are never undone. How hard have conservatives tried to eliminate the Department of Education or subsidies to public television? Would they have more success uncreating a new nationalized health care system?
An Obama/Pelosi/Reid regime — if it were to get a filibuster-proof majority — will certainly be able to shift the country's direction sharply to the left. The only question is — would the shift be permanent?
I had posed this same question back in June, when we first found out that this election was going to be McCain vs. Obama. I understand the rationale of getting another Reagan after another Carter, I really do. It's the idea of losing a tactical battle to win the strategic war, and there are certainly instances where that works. But, my concern — and Charen's, I think — is that this may be the key battle that decides the outcome of the war. If we lose this one, can we really come back and win, no matter how bad things become under a President Obama?
It's one thing to hike taxes across the board like Obama is promising – tax rates can be brought back down, and most certainly would be. The bigger problem is what Charen nails: the institutional liberal 'reforms' that Obama would be certain to implement (especially with a supermajority Democrat Congress) cannot be rolled back. How do you cut back on universal education that begins at pre-school? How do you cut back on universal health care? How do you cut back on any giveaway programs that people will immediately come to depend on?
Once again, let's go back to my mantra: this is the slow creep of liberalism. Liberals don't have to win all at once. They can afford to go slowly, one step at a time because they never lose ground. Once a giveaway program is established, it won't ever go away. Take food stamps as an example. Food stamps are a great idea (and still is) for people who really need them. No one would deny that. But, may I remind you that there have been food stamp commercials on the radio for several years now? That program has had so much money thrown at it that it's actually advertising to attract new users, but if someone actually had the stones to suggest that we cut back on its funding, you'd see rioting in the streets. That's the problem. Liberalism never goes backward.
This election is critical for stemming the creep of liberalism. We may not be able to roll back the current liberal creep, but we can at least stop it from getting worse. However, if Obama and a Democrat supermajority win in November, the creep will become a sprint to the finish line, which is the transformation of a free America into a Europe-like socialist state.
There's my two cents.