Radical Obama? Not Even Close
Reactionary hysteria aside, he's still the only Marxist around
The infernal machinery of reactionary America—the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and its animatronics version on Fox News, The Weekly Standard, the nasal intellects of talk radio like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity—would have you believe that Barack Obama’s presidency will be a radical break from right-leaning America. If only. Here’s what radical would look like.
Health care. Enough tinkering in fear of universal health care. The single-greatest obstacle to universal and affordable care is the insurance industry. Eliminate its role in health. It’s a disease whose only effective cure is a single-payer system such as Medicare. Its overhead is cheaper than private-sector insurance. Its coverage is universal. The care it enables is private and up to individual choice. I’d much rather pay my $5,000-a-year premiums in the form of a national health tax supporting a system like that than the capricious system in place now. With a national system, I’d have the satisfaction of knowing that 71 million uninsured and underinsured fellow-Americans are covered. Bonus radicalism: End for-profit hospitals.
Taxes. You know you’re in a Salvador Dali world when the Democratic presidential candidates pretend $200,000 earners are middle class and their Republican mirrors evoke the Boston Tea Party when you propose raising taxes a miserable 3 percentage points on people making more than $250,000. “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society,” in Oliver Wendell Holmes’ words. We just haven’t been paying them much for the past 28 years, which explains why we’ve become so uncivilized (shoddy health care, shoddy schools, shoddy roads). So: Return marginal tax rates—all rates—to their Clinton-era levels. Forget about a middle—class tax cut. I don’t make that much money, but I’m embarrassed, for my children’s future especially, at how little federal taxes I pay, though the results are all around me. Capital gains and dividend income? Tax it at the same rate as all other income. Bonus radicalism: End the handout known as the mortgage-interest deduction except for low-income first-time homebuyers.
Energy. Thomas Friedman’s serial analogies are murder on the English language, but he still has brilliant ideas. The $1-a-gallon federal surtax on gas was one of them—a great idea in the 1990s, still a great idea today no matter what the price of gas is. If we want the double-bang of an incentive to drive less, energize the alternative-energy sector and finance it, there’s no fairer, quicker way than a gas surtax. Bonus radicalism: An extra 25-cents-per-gallon tax dedicated exclusively to new mass-transit projects such as light rail and bullet trains. (Gas prices are ready to fall below $2 per gallon, so if we could put up with $4.50 per gallon a month ago, we can put $3.25 per gallon to good use before the next shock).
Star wars. After 25 years, $160 billion and barely a couple of pretend-success tests, the Reagan-inspired missile-defense system is still doddering on at $10 billion a year. Time to junk it, along with the $380-million-a-plane F-22 Raptor fighter program, developed more than two decades ago to fight ghosts once known as Soviets. Bonus radicalism: Welcome gays in the military.
Immigration: U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, the Connecticut Republican, was unfortunately defeated two weeks ago. His “blue card” idea shouldn’t be: A “blue card” to every illegal immigrant willing to work and pay taxes, as a first step to a Green Card—and citizenship. It’s not amnesty. It’s Americanism at its best. Bonus radicalism: Mr. Obama, tear down that wall going up along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Domestic security. Close the Department of Homeland Security, the Bush administration’s single-biggest, most useless and abusive (of dollars and liberties) expansion of government since Harry Truman signed the equally toxic National Security Act of 1947. Bonus radicalism: Abolish the CIA—or at least half of those 18 spy agencies in the country’s $40-billion-a-year “intelligence community.”
Iraq and Afghanistan. Quit fantasizing that the “surge” did more than sedate loathing—among Iraqis or toward Americans—or that it could be applied to Afghanistan. It’s not that Iraqis and Afghans can’t make peace, but they won’t as long as foreign powers muck it up for them. Withdraw troops from both, replace them with plenty of economic aid and a few special forces focused exclusively on al-Qaida. The next war, anyway, is in Pakistan. Bonus radicalism: Withdraw all remaining 35,000 to 45,000 U.S. troops from Europe. Time to let those Europeans carry their own weight.
That would be radical, at least relative to the fearful, self-serving conservatism of the past three decades. In reality, it’s only mildly liberal—and unlike anything Obama is proposing. As I said: If only.