We can all remember those halcyon days when newly-elected to the presidency Barack Obama was being hailed as a new Lincoln or FDR. The Time magazine cover of Obama wearing a gray felt fedora and pince-nez spectacles that evoked Roosevelt seems a long time ago now, though, doesn’t it?
Richard Miniter, a Forbes blogger, suggests that the FDR analogy was wrong from the start:
Like it or not, Obama is not the new FDR, but the new Gorbachev: a man forced to preside over the demise of a political system he desperately wants to save.
Miniter thinks that the long-term trends for the system President Obama would hope to save don’t look good:
This week’s fight over raising the federal debt limit exposes a key weakness in the warfare-welfare state that has bestowed power onto the Democratic Party: Without an ever-growing share of the economy, it dies. Every vital element of the Democrats’ coalition – unions, government workers, government contractors, “entitlement” consumers – requires constant increases in payments, grants and consulting contracts. Without those payments, they don’t sign checks to re-elect Democrats.
While the Democrats are dependent on government handouts to keep their coalition together, Republicans generally pay more into the government than they receive from it. They would like to pay less. (The exception is those who want their Social Security and Medicare but nevertheless vote Republican.)
Miniter believes that, even if Barack Obama were to win re-election in 2012, the system as it currently exists is doomed. The number of people in unions or holding government jobs, two cornerstones of Democratic strength, is declining, as is mainstream media influence (though it is premature to write off their influence).
George Will-who tipped me to the Miniter post-also notes that we are engaged in a long game. Although, if Miniter is right, the party of spending is doomed, the party of fiscal restraint is going to have to learn patience.
Frankly, I am very rah rah tea party, but I have worried lately that if, in its dedication to doing the right thing, the tea party becomes impatient and then makes the wrong moves, it could ultimately help the big spenders retain power. Will shares this concern:
The tea party, the most welcome political development since the Goldwater insurgency in 1964, lacks only the patience necessary when America lacks the consensus required to propel fundamental change through our constitutional system of checks and balances. If Washington’s trajectory could be turned as quickly as tea partyers wish, their movement would not be as necessary as it is. Fortunately, not much patience is required.
But the tea party may have to swallow hard and accept some things it could, in an ideal world, reject. No, they don’t have to vote to raise taxes. But, as Will suggests, they might be wise to accept the Mitch McConnell plan to solve the debt ceiling issue.
Mitch McConnell’s proposal would require Obama to make three requests for additional debt-ceiling increases. Each time he would be required to recommend commensurate spending reductions. Congress would, of course, retain its constitutional power to do what it wishes. Obama could muster sufficient Democrat votes to sustain his veto of Congress’ disapproval of his requests. But this would not enhance presidential power. Rather, McConnell’s proposal would put a harness on the president, tightly confining him within a one-time process.
Congressional primacy would be further enhanced by McConnell’s proposed special congressional committee. Its proposals would be unamendable and would be voted on this year.