“What’s the Worst That Can Happen?” Revisited

I spent the election doing a lot of spectualting over whether Obama would merely be a center-left president in the Clinton mold — i.e., one who enjoys short-term political success while failing to seriously advance liberalism — or whether he would actually be a transformational liberal leader who creates enduring big government institutions a la FDR and LBJ. Having been able to take a look at some of his early appoints, right now, it’s looking more and more like the Clinton model. As Jim noted, there is already growling among the left because Obama has steered clear of radical progressive appointments thus far. Also, while what we know of the economic stimulus package thus far should be disconcerting to conservatives — a $500-$700 billion price tag, plenty of room for pork in infastructure and environmental handouts — none of it seems to be creating any lasting institutions that will be with us when the economy recovers, and/or irreversible during any future conservative administration. Obama also left open the possibliity that he wouldn’t raise taxes on those making over $250,000 until the tax cuts are set to expire in 2011. With that said, there are clear long-term threats to the free market, with the most troubling on regulation and health care. Given that the ultimate cost of the bailouts will be in the trillions of dollars, and government will end up with huge stakes in banking, insurance, and the housing market, it’s inevitable that we’ll end up with a massive increase in regulation. Furthermore, Daschle’s appointment to HHS signals that Obama is serious about creating universal health care, and the former Senate majority leader’s keen understanding of the legislative process makes this a real possibility.