2009-2010 will rank with 1913-1914, 1933-1936, 1964-1965 and 1981-1982 as years that will permanently change our government, politics and lives.
Just as the stars were aligned for Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson and Reagan, they are aligned for Barack Obama. Simply put, we enter his administration as free enterprise, market-dominated, laissez-faire America. We will shortly become like Germany, France, the United Kingdom or Sweden -- a socialist democracy in which the government dominates the economy, determines private sector priorities and offers a vastly expanded range of services to many more people at much higher taxes.
Obama will accomplish his agenda of "reform" under the rubric of "recovery." Using the electoral mandate bestowed on a Democratic Congress by restless voters and the economic power given his administration by terrified Americans, he will change our country fundamentally in the name of lifting the depression. His stimulus packages won't do much to shorten the downturn -- although they will make it less painful -- but they will do a great deal to change our nation.
In implementing his agenda, Obama will emulate the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt (not the liberal mythology of the New Deal, but the actuality of what it accomplished). When FDR took office, he was enormously successful in averting a total collapse of the banking system and the economy. But his New Deal measures only succeeded in lowering the unemployment rate from 23 percent in 1933 when he took office to 13 percent in the summer of 1937. It never went lower. And his policies of over-regulation generated such business uncertainty that they triggered a second-term recession. Unemployment rose to 17 percent in 1938 and, in 1940, on the verge of the war-driven recovery, stood at 15 percent. (These data and the real story of Hoover's and Roosevelt's missteps, uncolored by ideology, are available in "The Forgotten Man" by Amity Shlaes.)
But in the name of a largely unsuccessful effort to end the depression, Roosevelt passed crucial and permanent reforms that have dominated our lives ever since, including Social Security, the creation of the SEC, unionization under the Wagner Act, the federal minimum wage and a host of other fundamental changes.
Obama's record will be similar, although less wise and more destructive. He will begin by passing every program for which liberals have lusted for decades, from alternative energy sources to school renovations to infrastructure repairs to technology enhancements. These are all good programs, but they normally would be stretched out for years. Freed of any constraint on the deficit -- indeed empowered by a mandate to raise it as high as possible -- Obama will do them all rather quickly.