Decades ago, a President finally showed that he was far outside the then-current American mainstream. Critics had painted him as a would-be dictator who hated the free market. In starting his election campaign, he announced a war to the death against businesses whom he described as "the resolute enemy within our gates."
These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America," he thundered. "What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "Rendezvous with Destiny" acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, June 27, 1936.
After stating his economic beliefs about as clearly as anyone could, Roosevelt went on to sweep 46 out of 48 states. He'd made his case and the American voters bought it of their own free will. Unfortunately, Mr. Roosevelt and the voters forgot that it's businesses which create jobs, not government.
Mr. Roosevelt set up a host of alphabet soup agencies - WPA, CCC, and many others to try to stimulate the economy back to life. Although many people were hired to work for these agencies, government spending didn't generate enough demand to get the economy moving again. A full ten years after the stock market crashed and well into Roosevelt's presidency, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau despaired:
We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work... After eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started... and an enormous debt to boot! [emphasis added]
Why didn't it work? Because government jobs do not create a working economy. If they did, the Soviet Union would have worked, because everyone worked for the government and there was technically no unemployment whatsoever - nor anything wasted on profits, marketing or sales. By all academic predictions, the Soviet economy should have kicked America's heinie all over the map, but the exact opposite happened.
The economic failure of his ideas didn't seem to have bothered Mr. Roosevelt, however, because of the enormous increase in government power they brought.
If Mr. Obama wasn't aware of the unfortunate economic effects of Mr. Roosevelt's economic policies, it's certainly been pointed out to him times without number since his elevation to the Presidency.
It's been said repeatedly that nobody can be pro jobs and anti business at the same time. Mr. Roosevelt was the most viciously anti-business President we've ever had but other national leaders have been far worse. Mao tse-Tung had a habit of executing anyone who tried to create jobs by starting a business, for example. The Chinese economy tanked and everyone stayed dirt poor until long after Mao was out of office.
With Mr. Roosevelt being so critical of their honesty, their patriotism, and their very humanity, businessmen went on strike. They refused to invest their capital and jobs weren't created. We didn't return to full employment until World War II intervened.
It's silly for anyone to claim that Mr. Obama is the most radical President in our history: he's not. His anti-business rhetoric is not nearly as vicious as President Roosevelt's was. What Mr. Obama's doing is no more costly, no more unconstitutional, no more destructive to our economy than Roosevelt's New Deal or LBJ's Great Society. He's pushing precisely the same big-government, big-tax, no-freedom agenda that Democrats have pushed since their party was founded.
They didn't invent it, of course. The idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-doing government watching out for incompetent, ignorant citizens goes back to Alexander Hamilton, one of our founders. Hamilton didn't really believe in government by ordinary people:
The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and, however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true to fact. The people are turbulent and changing, they seldom judge or determine right. [emphasis added]
Mr. Obama's actions have demonstrated over and over that he doesn't trust any of us to make health care decisions for ourselves, or to decide how to use our own property, or to properly educate our kids, or even to know how to eat. His actions show that Mr. Obama and his entire party wholeheartedly agrees with Mr. Hamilton in believing that ordinary citizens "seldom judge or determine right" and their views should be generally ignored. His actions also show that Mr. Hamilton was right when he said, "A fondness for power is implanted in most men, and it is natural to abuse it when acquired."
Anybody who thinks Mr. Obama is outside the Democratic party mainstream should try to:
One final test: list all the Democrats who intend to challenge Obama in the coming Democratic primary from the conservative direction - a number which can be measured on the toes of one hand. Despite occasional rumblings, there don't seem to be any serious challengers from the liberal direction either. By definition, that puts Obama squarely in the middle of the Democratic party.
No, Mr. Obama's problem isn't that he's outside his party mainstream. His problem flows from the fact that his ideas are his party's mainstream. Unfortunately for him, those ideas are known not to work.
Voters are finally realizing the disaster that leftist, statist policies bring and gave him a "shellacking" at the recent election. We'll see if enough coats of shellac can change the direction of the Democratic party.
Given their long tradition of trying to buy our votes by giving us our own money, there's room for doubt, but leopards change their spots now and then when it's change or die. Let's hope it comes to that.