As a social conservative who has written extensively about abortion, stem cell research, family structure, failing schools, the degradation of popular culture, and abstinence education, I submit, without fear of misinterpretation, that the next two elections are not going to be about those issues.
That isn't to suggest that social issues are unimportant. They are critically important. And, of course, social patterns affect politics. There is, for example, no question that unwed childbearing contributes far more to poverty in America than the recession has. Abortion is immoral -- and a majority of Americans now sees that. And ineffective schools affect our economic productivity and competitiveness. We must reverse some of these trends if we hope to have sustained prosperity and political and social vitality in the long run.
But the short run needs attention more urgently. In the short run, the elections will be about the scope of government. They will be referenda on what the Democrats have done with their power.
The liberal Democrats had been waiting for 44 years for this moment. Though two Democrats were elected president with majorities in Congress in the last four decades, neither Carter nor Clinton campaigned as a liberal or achieved a large electoral majority. Carter was defeated after one term, and Clinton was obliged to trim sails and declare that the "era of big government" was over.
But Obama did campaign as a liberal and, unlike his two Democratic predecessors, assumed office with a comfortable margin of victory (Obama's share of the popular vote was 52.9, compared with 50.1 for Carter, and 43 for Clinton). Democrats were delirious. The image that best captured the ambitions of the victorious party was the Nov. 24, 2008 cover of Time magazine in which Obama was pictured as FDR -- cigarette holder between his teeth, broad smile, jaunty air -- in short, a liberal Democratic fantasy fulfillment.
Even taking into account the bloat of government under Republican leadership, President Obama and the Democrats have more than justified that Time cover. In fact, Obama's Democrats will outspend (pre-war) FDR by a considerable margin. During the Depression, federal spending averaged 12 percent of GDP. According to projections from the Office of Management and Budget, federal spending during the Obama administration will average 24.13 percent of GDP. In his first year alone, President Obama increased federal spending by 22 percent.