Within days of last November’s election, stories throughout the media began comparing Barack Obama to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The FDR era transformed people’s relationship to the federal government by greatly expanding its role in their lives. Would President Obama, his party armed with big majorities in both houses of Congress, do the same?
“Never allow a crisis to go to waste” said Rahm Emanuel, the new president’s chief of staff. True to that spirit, the White House has tried to dramatically grow the federal government’s role in domestic spending, health care, and energy.
The spending bill passed early, with the president warning that failing to do so could result in the unemployment rate exceeding 8 percent. But the stimulus plan didn’t reverse the unemployment numbers or even keep them in place.
They are getting worse. In less than 10 months, unemployment hit 8 percent, then 8.5 percent, then 9 percent, then 9.5 percent, and now sits at 10.3 percent _ a 26-year high.
Meanwhile, the annual federal deficit – the amount of spending that exceeds tax revenue – will hit $1.75 trillion this year, which is what the entire federal budget was 10 years ago.
President Bush’s budgets raised the federal debt – the accumulation of all his deficits – $4.9 trillion in eight years. President Obama’s will hike the federal debt $6.3 trillion in just four.
The Cap and Trade bill that is designed to reduce global warming is now faltering. The whole concept of the bill is to raise the cost of energy in people’s homes, cars and places of business.
Opposition stems partly from its price tag – between $1,500 to $2,900 per family, and partly because of rising doubts about its affect on the climate.
The warmest year on record was 11 years ago. Despite rising carbon output, global temperatures have leveled off and gotten cooler.
Finally, health care. The possibility of a federally directed health care system has caused millions of Americans to sit back and think hard about the role of the federal government in a free society.
Dinner table discussions have spilled out into public debates at packed Congressional town hall meetings. These debates are long overdue.
And on Election Day 2009, the voters told us how they’re feeling. In Virginia, a state that President Obama won by more than 5 percent last November, the Republican candidate for governor this year won by nearly 18 percent. In New Jersey, a reliably blue, Democratic-dominated state where Obama won by more than 15 percent, incumbent governor Jon Corzine was bounced by Republican challenger Chris Christie, by 5 percent.
Large swatches of independent voters, who swung toward the left in 2006 and 2008, are swinging back toward the right. Polls show voters more concerned about taxes, deficits and rising spending, which are, to put it politely, not the priorities of the Obama administration.
The Clinton White House faced similar storm clouds during their first year in office. They pressed on anyway and were crushed in the ’94 earthquake that delivered the first Republican Congress in 40 years.
President Obama has that same choice to make, right now. Odds are that he will be equally stubborn. So be it.