WASHINGTON -- As memories of the Cold War fade, like photographs bleached by sunlight, few remember the Brezhnev Doctrine. It was enunciated by Leonid Brezhnev in Warsaw in November 1968 as a retrospective justification for the Soviet-led invasion of Prague the previous August by Warsaw Pact forces to halt Czechoslovakia's liberalization. The doctrine was supposed to guarantee that history would be directional, controlled by a leftward-clicking ratchet. It asserted a Soviet right to intervene to protect socialism wherever it was imposed.
We are already testing whether President Obama and other statists who have given his administration and this Congress their ideological cast have a doctrine analogous to Brezhnev's. Having aggressively, even promiscuously, blurred the distinction between public and private sectors with improvised and largely unauthorized interventions in the economy, will they ever countenance a retreat of the state? Or do they have an aspiration that they dare not speak? Do they hope state capitalism will be irreversible -- that wherever government has asserted the primacy of politics, the primacy will be permanent?
They say not, but they say many things they probably do not believe. (That a government-run "public option" health insurance would not extinguish or even harm private insurance; that cap-and-trade carbon regulations will raise energy costs without injuring the economy; that taxing Peter to subsidize Paul's purchase of a new car is a sound basis for economic growth; that a 85 percent unspent stimulus has routed the recession, etc.) Two legislative proposals are revealing the administration's real intentions regarding government ownership of companies.
The "Auto Stock for Every Taxpayer Act" drafted by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, would have required the Treasury Department to distribute to individual taxpayers -- evenly, to the approximately 120 million who filed 2008 returns -- all the stock the government holds in General Motors (61 percent) and Chrysler (8 percent). The legislation also would have prohibited using any more TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) funds for GM or Chrysler. And the legislation would have prevented government from influencing corporate decisions for social, energy or environmental policy purposes.
Last month the Senate rejected this legislation 59-38. Only one Democrat voted for it.