In my recent article “Checkmate,” I made the case that President Obama’s grand strategy has outfoxed the opposition, dooming us all to a massive increase in the scope and power of Uncle Sam. Is the situation hopeless? Never! If Americans who believe in individual liberty and free markets rally to the cause, then we may some day look back on the current gloomy period as the Valley Forge winter of a new American revolution.
The Achilles’ heel of Obama is most likely the hubris that is common to those who seek “nothing less than the total transformation” of a society (“of our economy,” were Obama’s exact words). In their consuming desire to be the Great Leader, such individuals shed restraint and grab impatiently for more power. In a society where people prize their individual rights and retain a residual distrust of Big Government, overreaching may prove to be Obama’s fatal strategic miscalculation.
In recent decades, Americans have been like frogs in the chef’s pot. Just as frogs don’t realize they are being boiled alive when the heat is turned up gradually, we Americans have been lulled into passivity by the gradual, decades-long expansion of government power. If we don’t wake up and jump out of the cauldron, we, like the frogs, will be doomed-in our case, by losing our freedom and prosperity to socialistic Big Brother. Obama’s bold power grabs are startling us, waking us out of our torpor, giving rise to tea parties, righteous indignation, and a renewed will to resist the encroachments of tyranny.
Let’s get the “s” word out of the closet and into the open. I abhor name-calling, and have never labeled President Obama a socialist-even after I heard through the grapevine that some Democrats were describing him as such at Washington cocktail parties. But since socialism is the specific term for government ownership of various commercial enterprises, it is impossible to not view Obama’s agenda as overtly socialistic in tendency.
He clearly wants and is working for a government-run health-care system.
He has proposed guaranteed universal college educations for every young American.
He wants to create new “volunteer” service programs that sound suspiciously like a draft to compel young adults to work for government.
He has asserted greater government control over the auto industry by demanding (and securing) the ouster of General Motors CEO Rick Waggoner.
His Treasury Secretary is proposing new powers that would enable the government to nationalize banks, insurance companies, and other financial entities.
And now his Interior Secretary seeks increased taxation of American oil companies-even though Big Oil has paid more in taxes to government in recent decades than they have retained in profits-on the grounds that Uncle Sam receives a lower share of oil and gas revenue compared to governments in other countries. Well, of course other countries’ governments derive a higher percentage of revenue from oil and gas production-after all, the 15 or so oil companies that are larger than our largest, ExxonMobil, are all state-owned oil companies. The only possible way Uncle Sam could equal the share taken by those foreign governments would be to nationalize American oil companies. Obama won’t go that far (yet), but he clearly intends to play central planner and radically restructure the domestic energy complex.
If Obama doesn’t scale back his audacious power grab, the American people may turn on him. Where might such a tipping point be? I’ll place my bet on cap-and-trade. Cap-and-trade is Obama’s scheme to charge big bucks to companies for permission to use carbon dioxide-emitting coal, oil, and natural gas-fees that will be passed on to the American consumer. If cap-and-trade becomes law, vast numbers of Americans of modest means will be angry if the costs of driving their cars, heating their homes, and paying their electric bills soar. They will feel conned when they realize that Obama’s promise not to raise taxes on them referred only to direct, explicit taxes, and not to indirect taxes that raise their cost of living. Cap-and-trade is Obama’s make-or-break issue. If he restrains himself from ramming a cap-and-trade program through Congress, then he may get most of the power he seeks; if not, he will be vulnerable.
Obama’s other Achilles’ heel will be his conduct of foreign affairs. He seems to believe that his personal charm is so forceful that he can talk enemies into beating their swords into plowshares. In doing so, he risks repeating the tragedy of Jimmy Carter whose Lennonist philosophy (that is, “Lennonist”-not Leninist-as in Beatle John Lennon’s motto “all you need is love”) was rewarded with contemptuous aggression by the Soviets, the ayatollahs, and that ilk. If the response to Obama’s apologetic America-debasing groveling is a lethal attack on American interests, especially a domestic incident, then the spell of the Obama personality cult will be broken, and support for his socialistic agenda will shrink drastically.
Either of Obama’s Achilles’ heels will hand the Republican Party a magnificent opportunity to present an alternative agenda that resonates with the American people. In my opinion, Republicans will win more support if they stop playing the party of Big Government to the Democrats’ party of Bigger Government, and offer a clear contrast by making themselves the party of Smaller Government. We have to hope that they aspire to something more than simply being at the helm when the ship of state cracks up on the rocks of national bankruptcy.
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.