Restoring Confidence In Government

One of the common themes throughout Barack Obama's presidential campaign, primary through general, was his desire to restore people's faith in government. Over the past two years, it was clear from the way Obama spoke about the role of government that he knew two things about the American people: 1. that they had been inculcated with a "government is the problem" orthodoxy since Reagan, a prophecy that was fulfilled by the failures of George W. Bush and 2. post-Bush, they are hungry for a government that works again.

During last night's speech, President Obama once again balanced these two realities, beginning the speech from an almost defensive posture.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President's Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets.  Not because I believe in bigger government - I don't.  Not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited - I am.

But ultimately, his speech was as full-throated a case for the government as solution as he, or any president, has ever given.

His defense of government intervention to bail out the banks was particularly strong:

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government - and yes, probably more than we've already set aside.  But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade.  That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation.  And I refuse to let that happen.    

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed.  So were the American taxpayers.  So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions.  I promise you - I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment.  My job - our job - is to solve the problem.  Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility.  I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can't pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can't get a mortgage.

That's what this is about.  It's not about helping banks - it's about helping people.

Later in the speech, Obama appealed to people's nationalism when talking about the role of the government throughout history and its role as an economic engine today:

For history tells a different story.  History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas.  In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry.  From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age.  In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history.  And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn't supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise.  It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

Obama was also clear to specify exactly how the stimulus package helped advance his energy, education and health care agendas. While Republicans made traction demonizing the bill as "wasteful government spending," Obama made clear last night that yes it is government spending but it was not wasteful. Obama's case was that not only is government spending necessary, it is productive and it is patriotic.

EJ Dionne gets it right when he says that in his rehabilitation of the image of government, Obama is restoring the image and concept of liberalism itself.

Aware that it is battling anti-government assumptions that are deeply rooted after a long conservative era, the administration will campaign to demonstrate that the stimulus money is being spent wisely and on programs the public sees as worthy. "We have to win this fight on the stimulus package," said one official, noting that getting the legislation passed was only the first battle. Ultimately, he said, a public reeling under rising unemployment rates will need to be convinced that government is actually improving its lot.

In just over a month in office, the president has pursued two goals that, conventionally speaking, seem at odds. Again and again, he has reached out to conservatives and Republicans with White House invitations and promises to incorporate their best ideas in his own plans. Yet at the same time, he has sought, subtly but unmistakably, to alter the nation's political assumptions, its attitudes toward collective action and its view of government. Obama's rhetoric is soothing and his approach is inclusive. But he is proposing nothing less than an ideological transformation.

Tuesday night's speech was the most comprehensive manifesto he has offered yet for his new rendezvous with America's progressive tradition. "We will rebuild," he declared, "we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before." If he is right, he will also have rebuilt American liberalism.

Tags: Barack Obama, government, liberalism, presidential address, stimulus (all tags)

Comments

9 Comments

Re: Restoring Confidence In Government

I am increasingly optimistic about the future. I supported HRC in the Primary. But as the days go by I am more and more impressed with the President. Not that HRC wouldn't have continued to impress - she certainly does as well. Let me just say that I'm not  displeased with what has turned out.

Best hopes for us all -- around the world. I live in Ireland and things are worrisome here. Still, with the lead being taken by Pres. Obama, I feel optimistic for the state of the world generally.

And I still get a little tear in my eyes when I read or write or say or hear "President Obama."

by carrieboberry 2009-02-25 11:02AM | 0 recs
Cognitive therapy

Yeah, anytime I get anxious about the economy or the associated storms surrounding all of us right now, I just think to myself - "Vice President Palin".  Suddenly, the whole world seems a lot less scary than it could be.

by the mollusk 2009-02-25 11:39AM | 0 recs
along these lines

Chris Bowers had a good post today:

http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do?dia ryId=11837

[...] the simple fact is that when polling firms stop asking Americans abstract questions about what vague ideological term they call themselves, and start asking Americans about what they actually believe, an enormous ideological shift is apparent. For example, last month the Harris poll found a huge popular shift in favor of government programs over the last three years (more in the extended entry):

by desmoinesdem 2009-02-25 11:31AM | 0 recs
That is why Obama goes out of his way to not

frame the programs as Democratic or Republican policy, but effective policy.

I know it infuriates a lot of progressives when he talks about charter schools, and uses a lot of applause lines we are used to hearing from the right...

But, if you are as old as I am, you remember Reagan working his magic on a lot of the white middle class, the catholics, winning over to HIS sunny optimism...he would get them nodding their head "that the government WAS the problem" and he made blanket truism the accepted truth.

He pulled the country to the right, by framing the story.

Those people, a lot of them, never called themselves Republicans, but voted for that party for generations.

Obama is doing the same political strategy.  

He stays away from buzz words. He avoids calling the other side the problem, at least personally.

He chides them for their failed policy, but he kids Eric Cantor that he is STILL going to work on him.

It's SO MUCH easier to follow a leader you like.

Remember, they all wanted to go have a beer with Bush?

My take is, right now, even a lot of conservatives would like to have a conversation with Obama, that he would not just ignore their points of view, that he listens, without insults and degratory spin.

Karl Rove's (or really Lee Atwater's) poltical strategy of demonizing the other side is being replace, Barack Obama buried it in the election and continues to confine it the ash heap of old dead political strategies.

It's an amazing performance to watch.

I have plenty of doubts if these policy intiatives will work.

I have ZERO doubt who should be President of the United States.

by WashStateBlue 2009-02-25 11:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Restoring Confidence In Government

"...Anti-government assumptions that are deeply rooted after a long conservative era..."

Sorry, but wrong.  The American people were never anti-government.  The reason why conservatives tended to win is because the Democrats never offered Americans a choice, rather nothing but echoes.  They constantly reinforced conservative nemes (Carter, Clinton) or, when they seemed to be pro-government, only came up with "programs" that only benefited small minorities of the population and were inadequate anyway to cope with the rapidly spiralling problems of modern urban life (LBJ).  The people have always wanted large-scale government intervention in the economy, on their behalf, and also universal social services.  Hopefully, Obama will give it to them.  

by demjim 2009-02-25 12:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Restoring Confidence In Government

Ideology has corrupted government.  Common sense can save it.

The Post Partisan

by knappster 2009-02-25 12:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Restoring Confidence In Government

Two points:

1. We are quickly learning that you have to listen to what the president says very carefully.  It often has multiple meanings.  For example transparency in government(stimulus was passed before we could even see what was in it), or no earmarks(a train between Las Vegas and California?), or we are going to make renewable energy profitable(by making all energy more expensive) or no lobbyists, or ...

2. You said he has rebuilt American Liberalism and I take some offense to that.  Although you are right it is rebuilt.  Liberalism used to emphasize individual rights and that really has gone to the collective.

Lets be honest while he is selling progressiveness or dare I say socialism, he still is wrapping it in free choice, libertarianism  and even conservative.  "Not because I believe in bigger government, I don't", is an example.

He is couches his arguments and shy's away from pushing a lot of his ideas 100% truthfully.

by Classical Liberal 2009-02-25 01:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Restoring Confidence In Government

Except, the budget bill the congress passed today is loaded with pork. We have no business on spending money on tattoo removal and expansion of presidential libraries....its waste pure and simple. I voted based upon the belief we would cut this crap. I expect the President to veto this if it comes his way. Its a disgrace....

by adb67 2009-02-25 04:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Restoring Confidence In Government

This is a great post. Thx.

by Charles Lemos 2009-02-25 06:32PM | 0 recs

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