Jonah Goldberg / February 6, 2009

The Great Overreach

The stimulus bill has failed. Barack Obama has failed. The Trojan Horse of Hope and Change crashed into the guardrail of reality, revealing an army of ideologues and activists inside.

Now, before I continue, let me say that Barack Obama will still be popular, he will still get things done, and he will declare victory after signing a stimulus bill.

But Obama’s moment is gone, and politics is about nothing if not moments.

The stimulus bill was a bridge too far, an overplayed hand, 10 pounds of manure in a 5-pound bag. The legislation’s primary duty was never to stimulate the economy, but to stimulate the growth of government, the scope of the state.

By spending hundreds of billions on things that have absolutely nothing to do with providing an immediate stimulus for the economy, Democrats hoped to make a down payment on their dream government. The billions for student aid, expanded welfare and health-care benefits, and bailouts for profligate state governments; the hundreds of millions for better museums and prettier government buildings; and the millions for smoking-cessation programs and bee insurance aren’t just items on crapulent Democrats’ wish list. The budget bloating was deliberate.

Remember what passes for a “cut” in Washington. Any decrease in the rate of increase counts as reduced spending. If you spend 20 percent more this year than you did last year, that’s a spending increase. But next year, that additional 20 percent is part of the baseline. And if your budget grows by “only” an additional 10 percent, you’ve just “cut” spending by 50 percent!

The stimulus bill was designed to give Democrats maximum maneuvering room. It would increase non-defense discretionary spending by more than 80 percent in a single year, in a single bill! Moving forward, they could grow government by smaller percentages while seeming to be responsible budget balancers. By putting chips on every square of social spending, they could let it ride for years to come.

Of course, this was more than a budgetary ploy. Democrats had good reason to believe that this was their moment. For the first time in a generation, they truly own the political commanding heights. They’ve won a string of elections, including the momentous presidential contest in which their candidate never really ran to the center the way Democrats normally do. He stayed on the liberal left all the way through Election Day, so liberals figured voters knew what they were getting with Obama. Indeed, that’s why the president keeps saying “I won,” as if that settles the issue. Funny how that argument didn’t work for the last president when he tried to reform Social Security.

Moreover, many actually believed Obama’s own hype. This was the moment for this, that and the other thing. This was the time when we, as Americans, were going to have our cake and eat it too. Future generations were going to look back and remember how Republicans and Democrats, cats and dogs, Klingons and Romulans came together and marched to the sunny uplands of history, where shopping carts have no wobbly wheels; airplane food is free, delicious and filling; and we get all of our energy from 100 percent renewable Loch Ness Monster poop.

Throw in the media’s shock-and-awe campaign – which has been softening enemy positions with obsequious coverage of Obama as Franklin Delano Lincoln, the Jedi-Lightworking-Messiah community organizer from the south side of Krypton, combined with near-daily autopsies of conservatism and the Republican Party (cue Richard Dreyfuss: “This was no voting accident!”) – and it’s no wonder liberals thought they had an open field in front of them.

The economic crisis was almost too good to be true. Like FDR and Lyndon Johnson, Obama was poised to act on Rahm’s Rule of Crisis Exploitation in a way that would not only guarantee a newer New Deal and an even greater Great Society, but would also receive bipartisan approval. That’s why Obama wanted so much GOP support – so as to ratify the left turn to European-style social democracy, particularly when voters cottoned on to the con.

But that didn’t happen. Obama and his party were undone by their hubris. There was just too much muchness in the bill. The once impressive support from conservative economists evaporated. Right-wing radio has been having one long tailgate party celebrating Obama’s overreach. According to the polls, voters are souring on the whole thing. Republicans finally discovered testicular fortitude – and they seem to like it.

There is still probably bipartisan support for a stimulus bill, but only for a measure intended to stimulate our market-based economy rather than one that hastens its Swedenization.

Again, Obama’s presidency has many victories ahead of it, and Democrats still run the show. But the perfect storm of liberalism has dissipated to mere scattered showers.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc. 

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