LOPEZ: Does Barack Obama sound like someone who appreciates the New Deal’s shortcomings?
SHLAES: Hardly. The New Deal exists principally on an emotional plane for Obama. To him the New Deal is something you play like a song, to make you or your constituents feel better. Let me be clear: It’s too early to judge Obama on economics. But he does seem unaware of the economic consequences of government expansion that happens under the New Deal name.
Politicians generally act as if there is no cost to reconnecting with voters by building new New Deals. But the whole exercise of writing law out of New Deal nostalgia is a form of national narcissism. Call it New Deal narcissism.
We could afford to burnish our social contracts if there were no competition from abroad. But there is.
LOPEZ: Does John McCain appreciate the New Deal shortcomings?
SHLAES: If he thinks about FDR at all …
TR is the president who goes with McCain, not FDR. McCain likes strong defense, and he’s viscerally suspicious of big companies. So he’s more a Square Deal guy than a New Deal guy. Nonetheless any President has to deal with the New Deal legacy. As John Marini of the University of Nevada said in a great speech for Hillsdale College, it’s time to choose between Reagan and Roosevelt. Reagan himself didn’t have to choose, because he had time on his side. We don’t — entitlements have to reform now. McCain shown he has guts to cut by talking about taboo topics such as reindexing Social Security to make it solvent.