Obama defends the welfare state

I didn’t watch the inauguration. Instead, I hiked Raven Rock State park with the Reedy Creek Middle School Wildlife Club.  Anyway, Matt Yglesias highlights this great defense of liberalism from Obama’s speech:

And it’s a good speech, too! A lot of it dealt with “social” issues or foreign affairs, but in terms of economics I would say this was the key graf:

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

There are a lot of ideas here and they attempt to offer a thorough response to the pseudo-Randian ideology currently ascendant on the right. He starts by rejecting the idea that the federal government has a fixed budget constraint that renders it incapable of meeting obligations to seniors and forward-looking public service needs of students and parents. You can raise taxes!

And then there’s the twofold case for the welfare state. On the one hand, it’s the right thing to do. No person is full master of their own destiny and everyone deserves protection against the vicissitudes on life. On the other hand, as a practical matter a dynamic market economic requires risk-taking. Policies to minimize downside risk facilitate risk-taking and increase rather than reduce the level of dynamism in society and the economy.

Good stuff, indeed.

Photo of the day

From the Big Picture Gallery of National Geographic contest winners:

Honorable Mention: RED FOX CATCHING MOUSE UNDER SNOW – With his exceptional hearing, a red fox has targeted a mouse hidden under 2 feet of crusted snow. Springing high in the air he breaks through the crusted spring snow with his nose and his body is completely vertical as he grabs the mouse under the snow. (Photo and caption by Micheal Eastman/National Geographic Photo Contest)

How to win the 2nd term

Great piece from John Dickerson on what Obama needs to do to have a successful 2nd term.  Short version: declare war on the Republican Party, step on its metaphorical throat, and consistently find ways to expose them for their extremism.  The good news for Obama is that the GOP is just so cooperative on that extremism thing of late.  Dickerson:

The president who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP. If he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat…

Obama’s only remaining option is to pulverize. Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to delegitimize his opponents. Through a series of clarifying fights over controversial issues, he can force Republicans to either side with their coalition’s most extreme elements or cause a rift in the party that will leave it, at least temporarily, in disarray…

 Obama’s gambit in 2009 was to build a new post-partisan consensus. That didn’t work, but by exploiting the weaknesses of today’s Republican Party, Obama has an opportunity to hasten the demise of the old order by increasing the political cost of having the GOP coalition defined by Second Amendment absolutists, climate science deniers, supporters of “self-deportation” and the pure no-tax wing.

The president has the ambition and has picked a second-term agenda that can lead to clarifying fights. The next necessary condition for this theory to work rests on the Republican response. Obama needs two things from the GOP: overreaction and charismatic dissenters. They’re not going to give this to him willingly, of course, but mounting pressures in the party and the personal ambitions of individual players may offer it to him anyway. Indeed, Republicans are serving him some of this recipe already on gun control, immigration, and the broader issue of fiscal policy.

Hard to say just how successful this will be, but it does strike me as the right diagnosis for the strategic context.  Among other things, its hard to over-estimate the self-defeating extremism of much of the elected Republican party.  Certainly seems they will accomplish a big part of Obama’s strategy for him.

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