At a fundraiser in Seattle on the day before Thanksgiving, President Obama told a group of Democratic donors, apparently without a hint of irony, “I’m not a particularly ideological person.” One wouldn’t know it from the ponderous 48-minute oration on income inequality that he delivered in Washington on Wednesday.
Mr. Obama devoted the majority of it to the cause of lamenting a “dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility” that he says is jeopardizing the middle class. The unraveling of the “social compact,” he said, began in the late ‘70s. “The result is an economy that’s become profoundly unequal, and families that are more insecure,” he said, blaming “a trickle-down ideology” in which “taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.”
The barbed words were aimed squarely at the memory of Ronald Reagan, who presided over a massive economic expansion that increased prosperity for rich and poor alike. Mr. Obama did acknowledge the concept of a free-market economy. “We don’t promise equal outcomes,” he said, and success “depends on effort and merit.” He even mentioned that “we’ve never begrudged success in America.” It’s clear from the president’s remarks, however, that he lacks Reagan’s faith in Americans working through charities and through the market to solve societal problems.
“It’s not enough anymore,” said Mr. Obama, “to just say we should just get our government out of the way and let the unfettered market take care of it.” The Cato Institute calculates that America has spent $15 trillion on social welfare programs since President Johnson’s Great Society. The federal government currently has 126 poverty-eradication programs, yet they’ve acted more as poverty-enhancement programs, driving the poverty rate up, not down, since 1965.
Over the past 40 years, government programs have undermined the nuclear family and become the greatest driver of income inequality. As liberal social policies and programs multiplied, so have social ills, such as the burgeoning number of single-parent households, out-of-wedlock births and drug abuse.
The president’s proposed fix for income inequality is more of the same. He wants “strong application of anti-discrimination laws”; “investments in education”; more unions and collective bargaining; raising the minimum wage; congressional passage of the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; amnesty; and, of course, more Obamacare. There’s not an original thought that can’t be sourced in the classic Democratic tax-and-spend manual from the Jimmy Carter era.
For someone who claims not to be ideological, Mr. Obama was highly partisan. “If Republicans have concrete plans,” he said, “Let’s hear them.” The words were meant to create the impression that Republicans aren’t cooperating, even though it was the Democrats who locked the doors so Democrats and their lobbying allies could draft Obamacare without their input.
The president even dared Republicans to come up with an alternative to the governmental health care takeover. “You owe it to the American people,” he scolded, “to tell us what you are for, not just what you’re against. That way we can have a vigorous and meaningful debate.”
There are plenty of detailed conservative alternatives that would actually make health care more affordable. Perhaps the most popular idea is the medical savings account, which reduces the cost of care by giving individuals more control over how their health dollars are spent.
It’s just that giving individuals more control isn’t what the president wants to hear. So he doesn’t listen. He’s a very ideological man.