on Obamas Second Term
Here are some interesting thoughts on Obamas second term as
president, presented by Charles Krauthammer and Stanley Kurtz:
WASHINGTON “Ronald Reagan changed the
trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that
Bill Clinton did not.” That was Barack Obama in 2008. And he was right.
Reagan was an ideological inflection point, ending a 50-year liberal ascendancy
and beginning a 30-year conservative ascendancy.
It is common for one party to take control and enact its
ideological agenda. Ascendancy, however, occurs only when the opposition
inevitably regains power and then proceeds to accept the basic premises of the
Thus, Republicans railed for 20 years against the New Deal.
Yet when they regained the White House in 1953, they kept the New Deal intact.
And when Nixon followed LBJ’s Great Society liberalism’s
second wave he didn’t repeal it. He actually expanded it. Nixon created the
Environmental Protection Agency, gave teeth to the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission and institutionalized affirmative action major adornments of
Until Reagan. Ten minutes into his presidency, Reagan
declares that “government is not the solution to our problem, government
is the problem.” Having thus rhetorically rejected the very premise of the
New Deal/Great Society, he sets about attacking its foundations with radical
tax reduction, major deregulation, a frontal challenge to unionism (breaking
the air traffic controllers for striking illegally) and an (only partially
successful) attempt at restraining government growth.
Reaganism’s ascendancy was confirmed when the other guys
came to power and their leader, Bill Clinton, declared (in his 1996 State of
the Union address) that “the era of big government is over” and
then abolished welfare, the centerpiece “relief” program of modern
In Britain, the same phenomenon: Tony Blair did to
Thatcherism what Clinton did to Reaganism. He made it the norm.
Obama’s intention has always been to re-normalize, to
reverse ideological course, to be the anti-Reagan the author of a new liberal
ascendancy. Nor did he hide his ambition. In his February 2009 address to
Congress, he declared his intention to transform America. This was no
abstraction. He would do it in three areas: health care, education and energy.
Think about that. Health care is one-sixth of the economy.
Education is the future. And energy is the lifeblood of any advanced country
control pricing and production and you’ve controlled the industrial economy.
And it wasn’t just rhetoric. He enacted liberalism’s holy
grail: the nationalization of health care. His $830 billion stimulus, by far
the largest spending bill in U.S. history, massively injected government into
the free market lavishing immense amounts of tax dollars on favored companies
and industries in a naked display of industrial policy.
And what Obama failed to pass through Congress, he enacted
unilaterally by executive action. He could not pass cap-and-trade, but his EPA
is killing coal. (No new coal-fired power plant would ever be built.) In 2006,
liberals failed legislatively to gut welfare’s work requirement. Obama’s new
HHS rules does that by fiat. Continued in a second term, it would abolish
welfare reform as we know it just as in a second term, natural gas will
follow coal, as Obama’s EPA regulates fracking into noncompetitiveness.
Government grows in size and power as the individual shrinks
into dependency. Until the tipping point where dependency becomes the new norm
as it is in Europe, where even minor retrenchment of the entitlement state
has led to despair and, for the more energetic, rioting.
An Obama second term means that the movement toward
European-style social democracy continues, in part by legislation, in part by
executive decree. The American experiment the more individualistic,
energetic, innovative, risk-taking model of democratic governance continues
to recede, yielding to the supervised life of the entitlement state.
If Obama loses, however, his presidency becomes a historical
parenthesis, a passing interlude of overreaching hyper-liberalism, rejected by
a center-right country that is 80 percent nonliberal.
Should they summon the skill and dexterity, Mitt Romney and
Paul Ryan could guide the country to the restoration of a more austere and
modest government with more restrained entitlements and a more equitable and
efficient tax code. Those achievements alone would mark a new trajectory a
return to what Reagan started three decades ago.
Every four years we are told that the coming election is the
most important of one’s life. This time it might actually be true. At stake is
the relation between citizen and state, the very nature of the American social
— Charles Krauthammer
NOVEMBER 12, 2012, ISSUE
The Fire Next Time
A second Obama term would be worse but perhaps its own
By Stanley Kurtz
Will it be impossible to prevent a reelected President Obama
from transforming America into something resembling a European welfare state?
Or will citizens rise to decisive action in defense of limited government and
the Constitution? Conservatives will face that question in 2013 should the
president see victory this year, because either of these scenarios is entirely
possible. And it is also possible, paradoxically, that the worst case could be
the best one.
Although Obama has been notably reluctant to lay out his
plans for the future, his second-term agenda is easy enough to divine. The
president will consolidate the legislative gains of his first term (e.g.,
Obamacare and Dodd-Frank) and will employ regulatory fiat to impose other
policies on a reluctant nation (e.g., cap-and-trade and comprehensive
Many conservatives believe that Obamas reelection would be
tantamount to the end of limited-government America as weve known it. The
Founders made it difficult to enact large-scale change, yet equally challenging
to undo such a transformation once it is entrenched. With four more years to
cement his program in place, this view goes, the things that distinguish America from Europes centralized and redistributive regulatory states will largely pass from the
Plausible as that scenario is, another possibility exists.
Precisely because Obamas agenda is transformative, its full realization in a
second presidential term could ignite a grass-roots rebellion that would make
the tea-party uprising of 2009 pale by comparison. After all, he has carefully
back-loaded the most controversial provisions of health-care reform, financial regulation,
and a host of other policy initiatives into his second term. To this day, few
Americans have a clear conception of the changes that lie in store for them if
the president wins another four years, and Candidate Obama obviously means to
keep it that way. Yet the very tactics of obfuscation and delay that were
designed to lull the public into passivity in 2012 could provoke a political
firestorm in 2013. If that happens, the presidents agenda could be stymied.
Consider Obamacare, at once the most familiar part of that
agenda and one of the most mysterious. With the law and its growing penumbra of
regulations now running several times the length of the Bible, Obamacare has
spawned a small army of conservative policy wonks warning of its consequences.
It tries to square a circle by extending insurance coverage to millions of
Americans without providing for a comparable increase in the number of
physicians. If anything, its heavy-handed regulations are set to drive doctors
out of the profession.
This and other features of the law have set the stage for
deep dissatisfaction in nearly every segment of the population. Seniors will be
hardest hit, as doctors increasingly refuse to see Medicare patients and the
controversial new Independent Payment Advisory Board (a.k.a. the death panel)
begins de facto rationing of care. At the same time, younger patients face
especially steep premium increases. The newly covered poor may find doctors
largely unavailable, and all patients will likely have to wait longer for
appointments. Taxes hidden in the bill will kick in, employers may stop
providing coverage, and the public will conclude that President Obamas
unconditional promise that if you liked your doctor you could keep your doctor
was false and even deceptive.
A reelected President Obama would veto any attempt to repeal
Obamacare, and this is legitimate cause for pessimism. Yet if the mere prospect
of Obamacare kicked up a tea-party rebellion in 2009, what will happen when the
The Medicare board, which is structurally necessary to the
reform, still faces a constitutional challenge. If the country is up in arms,
its conceivable that the Supreme Court could be bolder when it rules on
Obamacare again. And how would a Congress facing a repeat of the 2010 tea-party
sweep behave? Symbolic showdowns over partial or complete Obamacare-repeal
votes, or a refusal to appropriate funds necessary to administer parts of the
program, could keep the issue front and center and set up the Republicans to
seize control of the Senate in 2014. That, in turn, could deprive Obama of his
hope of shifting the Supreme Court decisively to the left before the end of his
And Obamacare, it turns out, is only the beginning. Consider
Most Americans have no idea that the president has
circumvented legal and constitutional prohibitions and effectively imposed a
national K12 curriculum on the states. Relying on work financed by
deep-pocketed and like-minded outside groups such as the Gates Foundation, his
Department of Education conditioned states eligibility for federal Race to the
Top funding on their voluntary adoption of Common Core education standards (a
set of benchmarks for student achievement that were compiled by an independent
panel shortly before Race to the Top began). The curriculum and testing system
needed to put the Common Core into practice will be dumbed down (little classic
literature, fuzzy math) and politically correct (multicultural history).
The Common Core also could set off a new wave of tea-party
protests in the 45 states that have adopted its standards. In fact, the
rebellion has already started. Although many states have carefully put off
establishment of the Common Cores curriculum and testing system until Obamas
second term, elsewhere some elements are already in place. Their introduction
has spawned tea-party-led protest movements in Indiana and Utah, and when the
new curriculum hits in earnest in a second Obama term, the rebellion is likely
to spread, and states may well withdraw from the program.
Immigration is another issue that fuels the popular fires,
which is why Obama avoided it until his recent unilateral provision of amnesty
to young illegal immigrants. You can argue that a president who secures
reelection in the wake of so blatantly unconstitutional an act will have little
to fear from any further opposition, and Obama will probably proceed on that
premise. Yet its entirely possible that moves to extend amnesty to
illegal-immigrant adults by executive fiat will backfire, especially in an
atmosphere supercharged by anger at Obamas other second-term surprises.
And the populist aspect of a second-term backlash may be
only the half of it. How will Americas business community react to the full-on
arrival of Obamas economic agenda? Although substantially won over by Obama in
2008, business has soured on the president since then, alienated by his
demonizing rhetoric and his administrations regulatory policies. Leery of a
president who helps his friends and punishes his enemies, businesses might
prefer to avoid controversy in a second Obama term. But its also possible that
the fruition of Obamas regulatory agenda, including expensive health-care
entitlements, pro-union policies, and onerous environmental requirements, could
push even Americas cautious business community into open and active
n particular, Dodd-Franks massive regulatory apparatus is a
set of blanks set to be filled in during a second Obama term. The economic
uncertainty that this legislation has created already may have dampened growth
more than Obamacare has, and even Democrats are beginning to worry about the
law. Also, with its politically toxic cap-and-trade scheme having been rejected
by Congress, the Obama administration is pushing to impose an equivalent
regulatory regime on carbon emissions via the EPA. The unpopularity of Obamas
assault on coal and other fossil fuels has forced the administration to back
off a bit during the election, but a second term will see these efforts renewed
with a vengeance. Will business submit, or could the regulatory avalanche of a
fully enacted Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, combined with the imposition of a de
facto cap-and-trade regime by the EPA, push business back into the more active
alignment it had with Republicans during the Reagan administration?
And what will the coming regulatory avalanche do to the
economy? Up to now growth has been inhibited by uncertainty about Obamas plans
and political future. Will the arrival of certainty free up business to adjust
to the new environment, or will the harsh reality of an economy falling
increasingly under government control produce another downturn? An
EPA-orchestrated anti-carbon campaign will do no wonders for energy prices,
The tone for a second Obama term could be set within months
if Republicans allow the president to jump off a fiscal cliff. With massive tax
hikes and spending cuts already built into current law, the GOP may refuse
Obamas conditions for a deal to avoid them, saddling him with their political
and economic consequences. Right now, Republicans are wary that Obamas charges
of obstructionism will stick. But if the public doesnt like what it sees when
Obamas policies spring fully to life, obstructionism may get a good name.
Presidents are powerful, but so is an aroused populace in a
democracy. There may be much that Congress and the courts can do, short of veto
overrides, to hold Obamas ambitions in check. Americas response to the
reality of Obamas transformative agenda could be far more telling than the
countrys reaction to a likable candidate adept at keeping his most
controversial plans under wraps.
With any luck, well never find out.
Mr. Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public
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