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The New New Deal

Written By: Charles R. Kesler  |  Posted: Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

IN PRESIDENT Obama, conservatives face the most formidable liberal politician in at least a generation. In 2008, he won the presidency with a majority of the popular vote-something a Democrat had not done since Jimmy Carter's squeaker in 1976-and handily increased the Democrats' control of both houses of Congress. Measured against roughly two centuries worth of presidential victories by Democratic non-incumbents, his win as a percentage of the popular vote comes in third behind FDR's in 1932 and Andrew Jackson's in 1828. More importantly, Obama won election not as a status quo liberal, but as an ambitious reformer. Far from being content with incremental gains, he set his sights on major systemic change in health care, energy and environmental policy, taxation, financial regulation, education, and even immigration, all pursued as elements of a grand strategy to "remake America." In other words, he longs to be another FDR, building a New New Deal for the 21st century, dictating the politics of his age, and enshrining the Democrats as the new majority party for several decades to come.

Suddenly, the era of big government being over is over; and tax-and-spend liberalism is back with a vengeance. We face a $1.4 trillion federal deficit this fiscal year alone and $10-12 trillion in total debt over the coming decade. If the ongoing expansion of government succeeds, there will also be very real costs to American freedom and to the American character. The Reagan Revolution is in danger of being swamped by the Obama Revolution. To unsuspecting conservatives who had forgotten or never known what full-throated liberalism looked like before the Age of Reagan, Obama's eruption onto the scene came as a shock. And in some respects, obviously, he is a new political phenomenon. But in most respects, Obama does not represent something new under the sun. On the contrary, he embodies a rejuvenated and a repackaged version of something older than our grandmothers - namely the intellectual and social impulses behind modern liberalism. Yet even as President Obama stands victorious on health care and sets his sights on other issues, his popularity and that of his measures has tumbled. His legislative victories have been eked out on repeated party line votes of a sort never seen in the contests over Social Security, Medicare, and previous liberal policy successes, which were broadly popular and bipartisan. In short, a strange thing is happening on the way to liberal renewal. The closer liberalism comes to triumphing, the less popular it becomes. According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans now describe themselves as conservative, 35 percent as moderates, and only 21 percent call themselves liberal.

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