Walter Russell Mead takes the occasion of President Obama’s attempt to reenact a historic speech by Teddy Roosevelt to reflect on the unchanging nature of political disagreements. Mead argues that political battles in the near future correspond to the Hamilton vs. Jefferson debates of the early Republic, with Obama (and also everyone else) standing in for Hamilton, and Ron Paul for Jefferson:
Either way, a long revival of American traditions of individualism, skepticism of elites, and distrust of the federal government is a rising force in this country. Add to that suspicions of finance and of the influence of firms like Goldman Sachs in politics, and a full blown Jeffersonian reaction is beginning to emerge.
The decline of the blue social model, part Hamiltonian, part social democratic, is the reality that shapes the debate. Jeffersonians like Ron Paul argue that the decline of the blue model exposes the essential fallacies of Hamiltonian governance and that the US needs to rebase itself on a Jeffersonian foundation. Hostility to the Federal Reserve echoes Jefferson’s hostility to Hamilton’s First Bank of the United States; the desire to limit federal authority and revive states’ rights similarly echoes some of the country’s oldest political arguments.
In Osawatomie and beyond, President Obama will run for re-election as a Hamiltonian and a custodian of the 20th century progressive state. He will argue that modest and careful reforms, trimming a few excesses here, making some innovative policy shifts there, can keep the old ship afloat in the twenty first century. Like JFK, he will argue that the best and brightest can develop government policy that will guide the nation to a brighter future through collective action and state investments.
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