The Wrong Vision


The following is the WSJ’s Peggy Noonan trying to explain the president’s agenda and his confrontational style of politics (full article here):

All the famous criticisms of him are true: He has no talent for or interest in sustained, good-faith negotiations, he has no real sense of alarm about the great issue of the day, America’s debt. He’s a chill presence in a warm-blooded profession.

but …

He is certain he is right in what he’s doing, which is changing the economic balance between rich and poor. The rich are going to be made less rich, and those who are needy or request help are going to get more in government services, which the rich will pay for. He’d just as soon the middle class not get lost in the shuffle, but if they wind up marginally less middle class he won’t be up nights. The point is redistribution.

The great long-term question is the effect the change in mood he seeks to institute will have on what used to be called the national character. Eight years is almost half a generation. Don’t you change people when you tell them they have an absolute right to government support regardless of their efforts? Don’t you encourage dependence, and a bitter sense of entitlement? What about the wearing down of taxpayers? Some, especially those who are younger, do not fully understand that what is supporting them is actually coming from other people. To them it seems to come from “the government,” the big marble machine far away that prints money.

There is no sign, absolutely none, that any of this is on Mr. Obama’s mind. His emphasis is always on what one abstract group owes another in the service of a larger concept. “You didn’t build that” are the defining words of his presidency.

He is not going to negotiate, compromise, cajole. Absent those efforts his only path to primacy in Congress is to kill the Republican Party, to pulverize it, as John Dickerson noted this week in Slate, to “attempt to annihilate the Republican Party,” as Speaker John Boehner said in a remarkably candid speech to the Ripon Society.

Mr. Obama is not, as has been said, the left’s Ronald Reagan. Reagan won over, Mr. Obama just wins. What Mr. Obama really is is Franklin D. Roosevelt without the landslides. He has the same seriousness of intent but nothing like the base of support.

Now, reasonable people can agree that the divide between the haves and have-nots, the 1% and the 99% (more accurately, it’s the 20% vs. the 80%), has become a political and economic problem. We do live in a Winner-Take-All economy and the winners have been setting policy in their favor. This invites a political crisis that challenges both parties and all national politicians. But this administration’s approach is the wrong one because it kills the goose that lays the golden eggs in a free society, which is economic freedom and individual autonomy. Mr. Obama sees a zero-sum world, where some people get ahead by taking from others. This is not the dominant rule of economic freedom, which is positive sum, or win-win.

If we think outside this box, we can design policies to deal with inequality without destroying our society’s historic basis in freedom. There are ways to accomplish these goals through win-win. More fundamentally, humans don’t live to be safe, they live to be free. Big government advocates believe we live to be safe, and that freedom is mainly freedom from fear. They have it backwards. Just ask a former Soviet citizen, who discovered they were neither safe nor free.

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