Politics & Policy

Chicago Does Socialism

Connect the dots of Obama's first year in office, and an ugly picture emerges.

We can have a rational debate on any one item on President Obama’s vast progressive agenda, arguing whether adjectives like “statist” or “socialist” fairly describe his legislative intent. But connect all the dots and lines of the past year, and an unambiguous image starts to materialize.

NEW PROGRAMS

The problem is not individual legislation, whether passed or proposed, involving the gamut of issues: health care, bailouts, stimuli, education loans, amnesty, cap and trade. Rather, the rub is these acts in the aggregate.

The president promises a state fix for health care; then student loans; and next energy. There are to be subsidies, credits, and always new entitlements for every problem, all requiring hordes of fresh technocrats and Civil Service employees. Like a perpetual teenager, who wants and buys but never produces, the president is focused on the acquisitive and consumptive urges, never on the productive — as in how all his magnanimous largesse is to be paid for by someone else.

That Medicare and Social Security are near insolvency, or soon will be; that the Postal Service and Amtrak are running in the red; that a day at the DMV, county-hospital emergency room, or zoning department doesn’t inspire confidence in the matrix of unionized government workers and large unaccountable bureaucracies — all this is lost on the Obama administration.

Utility means nothing. So long as the next proposed program enlarges a dependent constituency and is financed by the “rich” through higher taxes and more debt, it is, de facto, necessary and good. Equality of result is to be achieved both by giving more to some and by taking even more from others.

TAXES

The same pattern emerges when it comes to taxes. Most Americans could live with Obama’s plan to return to the Clinton tax rates of about 40 percent on the top brackets. But that promise is never made in a vacuum. Instead, there is an additional, almost breezy pledge to lift caps on income subject to Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes — 15.3 percent in some cases — on top of the income-tax increase.

At other times, an idea like a new health-care surcharge is tossed about — on top of the previous proposals for payroll- and income-tax increases. That new bite likewise, in isolation, perhaps is not too scary. But Obama is planning these 1-2-3 increases at a time when most of the states are already upping their own income-tax rates — in some cases to over 10 percent.

Once again, Obama never honestly connects the dots and comes clean with the American people about the net effect: On vast swaths of upper income, new state and federal taxes — aside from any rises in sales, property, capital-gains, or inheritance taxes — could confiscate an aggregate of 65 to 70 percent.

These proposals thus raise the question: Exactly what sort of total tax bite does the president think is fair for those making more than $200,000 or $250,000? Can the citizen be allowed to retain 45, 40, 35, or 30 percent of his income? And if, with combined governments starting to take 60 to 70 percent of income through the various tax increases, we still have record annual budget deficits, how much higher should these high taxes go to prevent national insolvency? Eighty percent? Ninety? One hundred?

Perhaps we could have a rate of 110 percent: Those who make $250,000 might pay a redemptive $275,000 to the government on the theory that in the Bush era they “made out like bandits.”

“LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEAR . . .”

Then there is Obama’s chronic dissimulation. Most Americans were indifferent rather than outraged when Obama became the first presidential candidate to renounce public campaign financing in the general election — despite both earlier promises that he would not, and later crocodile tears over the Supreme Court’s rollback of some public-financing rules.

Perhaps most Americans also were only mildly irked that Obama demagogued the Bush anti-terror protocols during the campaign, only to continue unchanged precisely those practices that he had most fiercely railed against — tribunals, renditions, Predators, the continuing presence in Iraq.

And perhaps most Americans did not believe Obama when he promised to close Guantanamo within a year and to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in New York — and they were right. These too were isolated Obama untruths.

Then some of us were troubled that Obama had once decried passage of health-care reform by mere 51 percent majorities — only to do precisely that last weekend. Candidate Obama likewise damned the use of executive orders to countermand legislative action — and then did just that on matters of abortion and Obamacare. Chalk it up to the Chicago style of the ends justifying any means necessary.

So was anyone surprised that the health-care bill did not sit on the president’s desk for five days before the signing, as he once bragged would be the new administration’s policy, for reasons of transparency? And wasn’t that reminiscent of his continued, but reneged on, pledges to air all the health-care debates on C-SPAN?

I could go on and on, but again the pattern is clear. Each time Obama prevaricates, we grant him an exemption because of his lofty rhetoric about bipartisanship and his soothing words about unity. Only later do we notice that in retrospect each untruth is part of a pattern of dissimulation within just a single year of governance. Obama has proven so far that in fact one can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.

ABROAD

In foreign policy, Americans were okay with one bow to the Saudi king – until they saw a deeper bow to the Japanese emperor. One so-so apology was then followed by many more embarrassing meae culpae. His reaching out to Chávez was only one link in a chain that included Cuba, Libya, Syria, and Iran. We thought his serial gratuitous rudeness to Britain in matters of protocol was an aberration — until it proved to be the norm with the Czech Republic, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Dalai Lama. Smackdowns by Russia might have seemed singular, until China followed in suit.

One perhaps can forgive erstwhile Obama adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski’s stupid hypothetical speculation about shooting down Israeli planes over Iraq. And maybe the nominations of Charles Freeman and Samantha Power — not known as friends to Israel — were of no importance. Some raised an eyebrow, too, over Obama’s past close affinities with the anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright and anti-Israelis like Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi. But finally, the most recent outreach to the terrorist regimes in Damascus and Tehran, when juxtaposed with the hysterics over a few apartment buildings in Jerusalem, has cemented the notion that Obama really has radical ideas about altering the traditional American support for the Jewish state.

In other words, again, connect these seemingly isolated dots and a picture emerges of a new radical foreign policy of “neutralism.” Traditional allies are ignored, and old enemies are courted — until both are on the same moral and political plane. The one constant is that a socialist anti-Western philosophy abroad (which blames the West for a nation’s own self-inflicted misery) wins sympathy with the Obama administration, while capitalist Western culture is seen as mostly passé.

In any isolated circumstance, we are willing to give the president of the United States a pass on a particular disturbing decision. But after 14 months of them, the Obama particulars add up to a remaking of America that is now clear and consistent: Grow government; redistribute income; establish permanent political constituencies of dependents; increase entitlements; hike taxes; demonize “them” while deifying their supposed victims; seek global neutrality abroad; and always play fast and loose with the truth.

What do we end up with?

You might call it: Chicago does socialism.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

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