- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009


Why does President Obama want to implement all at once radical changes in American foreign policy, environmental policy, education, health care and the tax code? The answer is easy: If he does not achieve these initiatives soon, he never will.

Almost none of Mr. Obama’s proposed policies any longer enjoys majority support among voters — and many of them were not clearly outlined to voters during the campaign.

Current polls show more Americans are against than in favor of his version of health care reform. Nearly 7 in 10 are wary of government takeovers of the economy, such as the bank and car bailouts. More than half do not want more borrowing and higher deficits.

In response, Mr. Obama and the technocrats around him insist they know better than the average voter what is in America’s long-term environmental, health, educational and financial interests. So they’re rushing to save us from ourselves by planning all sorts of legislation that would change our lifestyles.

Even without popular support for individual policy changes, a still-personally-popular Mr. Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress hope to ram these policies through based on the president’s charisma and their legislative majorities.

White House politicos hold up Franklin D. Roosevelt as their model. He likewise came into office after economic upheaval and spoke with eloquence — and used both to permanently move American society markedly to the left in ways undreamed of a few years earlier.

Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, there is some indication that despite his constant TV appearances and nonstop interviews, time is running out — and he may not remain popular long enough to push through his liberal agenda.

Why is he winded?

First, he ran on a promise not to raise taxes on 95 percent of American households. However, even with his proposed new income, payroll and surcharge taxes on the so-called wealthy, his administration will run a $2 trillion annual deficit. Even members of the Obama administration, including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, are not ruling out some sort of new tax on everyone.

Second, Mr. Obama billed himself as a novel, transcendent candidate above partisanship, racial politics and the usual Washington sleaze. However, he has earned almost no bipartisan support for his proposed legislation. After six months in office, he still blames President Bush for much of the country’s problems.

When Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called Americans “cowards” for not discussing race honestly, when Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor claimed Latina judges would make wiser decisions than white male judges in some cases, and when the president himself said police had “stupidly” arrested his friend Henry Louis Gates Jr., the public saw more of the tired old identity politics.

And despite promises of a new ethics in Washington, there are still tax avoiders and revolving-door lobbyists in the Obama administration just as in any other past presidency.

Third, there is a vague sense of foreboding about the future and the direction in which the country is going. The amount of money Mr. Bush proposed that the government borrow at the end of his presidency now looks small. Trillion has replaced billion as the common referent for deficits.

If things are tough now, what will we do when interest rates rise from their present historic lows and we must pay back the borrowing at much higher rates?

There are plenty more questions. Will gas prices climb when the economy improves? If so, why aren’t we talking more about developing more domestic oil, gas, shale, tar sands and nuclear energy in addition to wind and solar power?

Is it wise to alienate democratic Israel while making overtures to Iran? If apologizing abroad wins applause in the short term, will such contrition only earn contempt and invite some hostile countries to try things they otherwise would not?

So, will Mr. Obama race through his agenda before his approval ratings drop further and he personally becomes as unpopular as his radical initiatives?

If the economy surges back in the next few months, if Mr. Obama and his advisers avoid any more divisive racial sermonizing, if the world abroad remains quiet, if the opposition fails to offer constructive alternatives, and if Mr. Obama does not renege on more past promises, he may yet win his race to change America.

Right now, that’s a lot of ifs.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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