As President Barack Obama begins his second term, democratically returned to office by a majority of Americans who seem to buy what he is selling, it would profit us to pause a moment and examine the discrepancies between the vision he expounded in his inaugural address and the economic reality that surrounds us. This leads to a pivotal question: What, exactly, is the underlying purpose of Obamanomics, and how would we know?
Logic offers two choices. We can take the president at his word, and then ask why the promised economic recovery, growth, prosperity, and equality, haven’t arrived yet. Or we can ascribe darker motives to the policies that have brought our country to the brink of ruin. That raises the horrifying possibility—unlikely as it might sound—that precipitating an existential crisis in order to bring about radical change has been Obama’s underlying agenda all along.
If we take the high road and accept Obama at his word, as most Americans have, we are led to three alternatives. The first is that the Keynesian nostrums applied to goose the economy—bailouts, stimulus spending, money printing, artificial suppression of interest rates, government “investments” in all manner of money-losing schemes, and a rapid expansion of the welfare state, all with the goal of increasing “aggregate demand”—are working fine. All we need is to give Washington a bit more time, a little more spending leeway, and a few more tax dollars extracted from those who can most afford it, and all will be well.
The second possibility is that the president’s macroeconomic policies are not working because they are too modest. Therefore, we must let Washington double down and play an even larger role in the economy, or all will be lost. Notables such as The New York Times’ Paul Krugman imply that this is the only way to restore prosperity, and that the one thing holding us back is stingy Republican recalcitrance.
The political battle being fought in Washington ranges largely across these three possibilities. But suppose none of them represent reality. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the series of deeper and deeper crises the nation is experiencing are not unintended consequences of failed policies but were the primary goal all along.
Yes, this requires taking a trip into the right-wing fever swamps occupied by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. But these days, it seems that only in such decidedly unfashionable neighborhoods are government policies measured not by their stated intentions but by results. Examining the dismal results of the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression through such jaundiced eyes, we come to two alternatives.
The first is that our government is controlled by a group of self-serving, hopeless incompetents locked in mortal gridlock with a rival political party also comprised of self-serving, hopeless incompetents. This is the easiest hypothesis to defend, and the most likely, which makes it safe ground for critics and pundits.
But suppose, just for a moment, that Obama is as brilliant as his supporters say he is. Suppose he knows exactly what he is doing and is not the least bit surprised by the outcome. Suppose he is methodically executing the infamous Cloward-Piven strategy—which, if it is not succeeding in its objective of totally remaking America, you sure couldn’t tell by looking at the results.
Yes, I know, much ink has been spilled over this theory, the best being an American Thinker article from 2008, Barack Obama and the Strategy of Manufactured Crisis. It’s worth revisiting, now that we have had a whole term to watch Obama in action.
Yes, it is possible that Barack Obama has rejected all the radical ideas he marinated in as a young man, just as he claims to have rejected the vitriolic anti-Americanism of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, in whose pews he sat for years and whose sermons inspired Obama’s memoir, The Audacity of Hope.
Yes, of course, it is possible that all of the formative influences that made our president who he is are irrelevant to the policies he is enacting now, just as it possible that we are living through a bad dream and that in the morning we will awaken refreshed in a country that is not in the process of destroying itself.
Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here. If you would like to have his columns delivered to you by email, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza. The cartoon is courtesy of TobyToons.