Walter Russell Mead: 2012 ... Suddenly, A Historic Election?





Walter Russell Mead is professor of foreign affairs and the humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest.

With Governor Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, the vague contours of the presidential race have suddenly become sharper. Up until now, partly because Romney’s image has been so fuzzy, we were looking at a referendum on President Obama rather than a clear-cut contest between political philosophies. Now, given Ryan’s prominence as a budget hawk and entitlement reformer, the public has a choice to make.

On the one hand, President Obama and Vice President Biden stand foursquare for the growth of what I’ve been calling the blue social model. In terms of government policy, they want to continue to grow the mix of interventions, guarantees, entitlements and programs that FDR launched in the New Deal, that Lyndon Johnson extended in the Great Society, and that various presidents (of both parties — think of Nixon and the EPA and W and the prescription drug benefit) have extended since.

This is a bolder stance than the Clinton approach. Bill "the era of big government is over" Clinton was a small ‘c’ conservative: he aimed to conserve the bulk of the entitlement state by trimming a few of its less popular features like welfare payments not linked to work. President Obama, who succeeded at passing health care where Clinton failed, has bigger ambitions, and intends to press ahead with the characteristic direction of American politics in the last two thirds of the twentieth century — towards a more powerful, more purposeful and more intrusive federal state.

Beyond that, Obama and Biden will be running on the blue social model as a way of life. The mass production, mass consumption society of Fordist America saw stable employment at good wages for most people in the US. For Obama and Biden, that kind of America is what Frank Fukuyama called the end of history: a relatively egalitarian income distribution, a stable employment picture, defined benefit pension programs for more and more workers, a gradually rising standard of living, more kids spending more years in school from generation to generation and a government of Keynesian macro-economists who keep the economy on an even keel.

For the Obamians, this is the ideal form of society. The apparent creaks and strains of the last thirty years — rising income inequality, stagnating real wages, economic volatility — are the result of policy errors rather than historical forces. Bad, selfish people have dismantled the regulations and controls that kept a healthy middle class economy in place and like Toad of Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows, reckless rich nincompoops have driven the national economy — and the blue social model — into the ditch. President Obama’s goal is to bring back the good old days, and make them better yet. His methods are classic tools of the progressive movement of the twentieth century and he believes that there is much, much more than government can do to make our country richer and our society more just.

The Republican challengers will be attacking this vision head on...



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