Old Talking Points Die Hard

According to this new Rasmussen poll, neither Barack Obama nor the growing economic crisis has been able to shift Americans' attitudes toward government.

In early October, as the meltdown of the financial industry gained momentum following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 59% of U.S. voters agreed with Ronald Reagan that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." [...]

Despite all that, a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows that the basic views of the American people have not change: 59% of voters still agree with Reagan's inaugural address statement. Only 28% disagree, and 14% are not sure.

It should be noted that this poll was taken in the days leading up to Barack Obama's address Tuesday night during which he made what was arguably his most full-throated case for government as the solution since beginning his campaign for president.

Still, it is surprising considering a majority believes the stimulus package -- a bill that embodies the progressive value of government as the solution -- will improve the economy. We've also seen a gradual increase in people's openness toward an increasing government role in health care.

What this polling result seems to signal is that people actually don't see Obama or his policies as representing "big government" in the way the right has demonized it for the past 30 years, which in itself signifies the mastery of Obama's messaging and the utter failure of the right to define Obama. Having said that, I'd be surprised if, in the months ahead, people's conscious poll-tested reaction to Reagan's anti-government message doesn't come more into line with what appears to be their unconscious post-Bush pro-government sentiment.

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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.

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Why Don't We Know A Bubble When We See One?

N'en déplaise à ces fous nommés sages de Grèce,
En ce monde il n'est point de parfaite sagesse;
Tous les hommes sont fous, et malgré tous leurs soîns
Ne diffèrent entre eux que du plus ou du moins.

Whatever these crazy appointed sages of Greece,
In this world there is no perfect wisdom;
All men are mad, and despite all their care
Differ among themselves as more or less.

So reads the somewhat cynical inscription to Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written in 1841 by Charles Mackay.  It was a book about bubbles.  The first two chapters are about financial bubbles.

Cross-posted at The National Gadfly

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"Change You Can Download" - Wikileaks Releases 6,780 CRS Reports.

Wikileaks just notified people that they are releasing over $1 billion dollars' worth of reports gathered by the Congressional Research Services (CRS).  These reports are provided to members of the US Congress and are legally in the public domain.  However, they are only released to the public with the permission of Congress in a complex system of permissions and protocols and ass-covering politicians.  Needless to say, attempts to free this information from the 'red tape' that keeps it from actually being released to the public have been met with resistance.Well, leave it to Wikileaks to strike a blow for transparency.

Cross-posted at The National Gadfly

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A Nation of Laws.

Shortly after he declared our long national nightmare to be over, Gerald Ford asserted that his arrival in the Oval Office, unelected, on the heels of the worst political criminal this country had ever known, was proof that these United States are "a nation of laws, not of men". On its face, the remark seems at best ironic, and at worst downright deceptive. But it turned out to be true. For two years, Mr. Ford functioned, if not brilliantly, then competently, as our chief executive, and then peaceably handed the reins to someone else when he failed to convince the electorate to let him continue. Gerald Ford may not have been our greatest President, but he was an honest one.

As the remainder of the Bush presidency can now be measured in minutes -- 76 of them, as I write -- rather than days, weeks, months, or years, I am put in mind of that moment. The orderly transfer of power is something that we in America are used to; it is about to happen for either the 44th or 26th consecutive time, depending on one's reckoning: at any rate, for nearly 150 years, every time the electors have spoken, one man has given the titanic opportunities and duties of the Presidency to the next, without a shot fired in anger. This has happened when the parties disagreed vehemently, when, perhaps, they hated one another, when their ideologies were massively opposed; even, once, when it seemed that the man who was taking office had effectively stolen that office from the direct deputy of the man who was leaving it.

It's something of a miracle, don't you think? In most places on this Earth, to this very day it is the norm for one person or group of people to seize power and weild it until it is wrested forcibly from their fingers. It is so in the world's largest nation, it is so in some of its smallest, it is so in some of our closest neighbors, it was so for our own ancestors and perhaps some of our relatives. Even in parlimentary monarchies -- notably the British Commonwealth -- the head of state, however neutered his or her powers might have become in recent centuries, gives up power only in death.

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