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Brooks And Klein Spar Over “Moderate” Budget Meme


Lots of talk today about Obama’s budget, and David Brooks draws the first line in the sand…

Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”

Moderates now find themselves betwixt and between. On the left, there is a president who appears to be, as Crook says, “a conviction politician, a bold progressive liberal.” On the right, there are the Rush Limbaugh brigades. The only thing more scary than Obama’s experiment is the thought that it might fail and the political power will swing over to a Republican Party that is currently unfit to wield it.

Now, some will point to Brooks’ essay as proof that Obama isn’t taking a steady course with his budget, he’s not being moderate, etc. But I don’t buy that. Just because Brooks isn’t a conservative commentator in the mold of Limbaugh, doesn’t mean he isn’t a conservative commentator. He believes strongly in the principles of limited government, low regulation on free markets and tax cuts as the best means of economic stimulus…and he has always said as much.

Also, a big part of Brooks’ essay up front is dedicated to the notion that Obama is taking part in class warfare, so let’s examine that for a moment. All he’s going to do is let the Bush tax cuts expire and the top rate will go up 3%. That means for every dollar that somebody makes over $250K, the government will get another 3 cents on that income. You know what that works out to if somebody makes $500K? An extra $7,500 on that additional $250,000 income. Think somebody making $500,000 a year can spare an extra $7,500? Of course they can.

This tax system worked under Clinton when we saw widespread prosperity and it can work now. And anybody who tries to confuse the issue and make people think that if they make over $250K that ALL of their income will then be taxed at the higher rate should be ashamed of themselves. The only reason I say this is I’ve seen that start to happen again and such blatant intellectual dishonesty is infuriating.

However, am I saying that Obama’s budget isn’t sizeable? Of course not. It is. But the strategies he’s employing are not far leftist ideas. They might not be conservative in their approach, but that doesn’t mean they don’t represent what the modern independent voter wants for this country. Obama laid out ALL of these plans during his campaign and McCain tried to paint him as a socialist. Well, America voted for that, and for Brooks to think that his Friedman-driven economic philosophy represents the center is naive at best.

So now we get to Joe Klein, and he explains why Obama’s agenda is hardly leftist…

In almost every case, Obama has chosen a moderate path of government activism–or left the solutions deliberately vague. His ten-year, $150 billion green energy plan, for example, will mostly be accomplished through the private sector–but it does tilt government toward alternative energy sources and away from the extreme benefits lavished upon oil companies in the past, policies that reeked of crony-capitalism rather than true conservatism.

I could argue that Obama isn’t being radical enough in the areas of health care and education. His health care plan is vague, and he hasn’t quite embraced universality. He rejects left-liberal solutions like a single-payer system out of hand, but also rejects the radical moderation of the Wyden-Bennett plan that would immediately relieve corporate America of its health care burdens. I fear that the ultimate result, without strong guidance from the Administration, will be an homage to health industry lobbyists and assorted Congressional health eccentrics.

His education plan is also small-c conservative, working within the current, failed-to-mediocre system of local-controlled public education and rejecting some of the more creative calls for root-and-branch reform (like taking education out of local hands, for example).

This budget will be debated up and down on the merits. Things will be cut and things will be added. That’s how government works. But to seek to define it as something that’s scary and damaging to America after conservative economic principles lead to where we are now is the height of hypocrisy.

In other words, step away from Friedmanomics and let’s try a different way.