Like many conservatives, I am dazed that an unknown person of dubious personal qualities with a far-left background is about to take office tomorrow as president of the United States. Also, like others of my persuasion, I have been mildly encouraged by the generally central-left appointments Barack Obama has made.
Here are my fears: That Obama will pursue a relatively moderate foreign policy so he can better devote attention to domestic policy. There, I expect, he will seek a fundamental restructuring of the relationship between state and society such as occurred under three of his Democratic predecessors of the past century – Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Just as the country has started to push back on the Great Society, in will come in a new surge of spending programs and intrusions on personal freedom, prompting changes that in all likelihood will never be undone.
The major advantage Republicans today have over those earlier three eras is the existence of an organized and intellectually lively conservative movement, one that can offer not just a timid me-tooism but a robust alternative vision. (January 19, 2009)
Jan. 20, 2009 update: Dick Morris confirms my fears in his column today, "The Obama presidency: Here comes socialism":
2009-2010 will rank with 1913-14, 1933-36, 1964-65 and 1981-82 as years that will permanently change our government, politics and lives. Just as the stars were aligned for Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson and Reagan, they are aligned for Obama. Simply put, we enter his administration as free-enterprise, market-dominated, laissez-faire America. We will shortly become like Germany, France, the United Kingdom, or Sweden — a socialist democracy in which the government dominates the economy, determines private-sector priorities and offers a vastly expanded range of services to many more people at much higher taxes.
Obama's inauguration also brings to mind what Pierre van Paassen (1895-1968), a globe-trotting journalist wrote. He tells on p. 248 of his 1964 memoir, To Number Our Days, about a prediction he made circa 1940 for a time capsule buried in the "Crypt of Civilization" at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta:
I was asked to give a letter with a prediction. My prediction ran this way: Eppur si Muove! ["And yet it moves"; what Galileo supposedly muttered after being forced to take back his assertion that the Earth is stationary] In a.d. 2042 when Oglethorpe's vault is opened, there will be a socialist president in Washington. He will be a Negro!
From "To Number Our Days."
Apr. 3, 2009 update: Charles Krauthammer outlines Obama's ambitions:
His goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation's income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax.
Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission. …
The credit crisis will pass and the auto overcapacity will sort itself out one way or the other. The reordering of the American system will come not from these temporary interventions, into which Obama has reluctantly waded. It will come from Obama's real agenda: his holy trinity of health care, education and energy. Out of these will come a radical extension of the welfare state; social and economic leveling in the name of fairness; and a massive increase in the size, scope and reach of government.
Jan. 19, 2010 update: Scott Brown's surprising, extraordinary, election as senator from Massachusetts provides a fitting coda to Obama's first year in office. My "daze" of a year ago is over as reality seems to have returned to American politics.
Mar. 21, 2010 update: Reality briefly returned but with the passage of the health care bill, that "fundamental restructuring of the relationship between state and society" seems well under way.