The WSJ gives a good rundown of the big government programs we can expect if Barack Obama wins and Democrats gain a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. The editorial makes the comparison to the eras of liberal dominance in 1933 and 1965, which of course brought us the New Deal and Great Society. In our October issue, I wrote a piece (currently unavailable online) that reported on liberal activists who are convinced that this is a moment for transformational progressive change, and they suggested that FDR and LBJ started out as moderates, and were only forced to adopt more ambitious agendas because of the presence of the labor and civil rights movements. Progressives hope to play the same role in forcing Obama to further to the left.
One of the barriers I mentioned when I wrote the article was that progressives did not have a major crisis that could be used to justify the sort of sweeping changes they desired. Since I wrote it, obviously, that much has changed — they now have their economic crisis. But on the flip side, the severity of the crisis and the cost of the bailouts could tie the hands of Democrats in Congress. Before the New Deal and Great Society were enacted, government was much smaller so there was more fiscal agility. Now, as a result of those very programs, there just isn’t much room for a major expansion when revenues are falling due to a week economy and we have to finance the bailouts. Another point I made still holds, though. And that is that in the prior eras of transformational progressive change, you didn’t have as strong of a conservative movement, with think tanks able to offer detailed critiques of liberal proposals, conservative media capable of communicating those critiques to the masses and activists who could put pressure on elected officials. The thing to keep in mind is that when Democrats win modern elections, they do it by convincing voters that they are not the kind of tax and spend liberals they hated in the past. Democrats retook Congress in 2006, in part, by winning many seats in relatively Republican districts. The question is whether they’ll be willing to satisfy the demands of the liberal activist base if it means risking re-election in 2010.