It became clear back in October when the tsunami called the financial crisis washed over the United States (and the rest of the world), that the 2008 election might be a deeply consequential one. Until the economy tanked, the contest between Barack Obama and John McCain was about conventional Democrat/Republican disagreements. Even differences over the war in Iraq and foreign policy had seemed to contract with the continued progress of Gen. David Petraeus' strategy. Though Barack Obama had the most liberal voting record of any senator, his campaign gave no appearance of extremism. You might have had your private doubts, but on paper he was a gun-defending proponent of traditional marriage who simply wanted to make government work better. Pro-union? Sure. A down the line supporter of abortion rights? Yes. But an FDR-style statist with grand ambitions to alter the American political landscape? No.
Immediately after the election, Obama chose a number of centrist advisers and even kept Robert Gates at the Pentagon. Some of us wondered whether he was really planning to govern from the center. Left-wing bloggers began to shift uneasily in their chairs. But they can relax now. With his "stimulus" package and his quasi-State of the Union address this week, President Obama has made it abundantly clear that he intends to hustle this country into European nanny state socialism if he can (and just as fast as he can).
The president thinks he has the opening to do so because this contraction, a bust following a boom such as free markets have experienced since the dawn of trade, has been interpreted by the political and journalistic classes as an unprecedented collapse of capitalism. Obama, his serene, non-confrontational style notwithstanding, has been adept at fueling this panic. Nothing less than "catastrophe" loomed if we failed to pass the most gargantuan government spending orgy in history. (James Glassman offers a useful historical tour of previous attempts to stimulate the economy through spending in the March issue of Commentary magazine. They are ineffective.)