It's been a hilarious August, watching media supporters of President Obama's health care package puzzle over the obscure motivations of the noncompliant Americans rallying against it.
"Racial anxiety," guessed New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
"Nihilism," theorized Time's Joe Klein.
"The crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy," historian Rick Perlstein proclaimed in the Washington Post.
While the commentariat's condescension is almost comical, the whole evil-or-stupid explanation misses the elephant in Obama's room: Americans of all stripes, it turns out, aren't very keen about the government barging into their lives.
An ABC/Washington Post poll from June showed people preferred "smaller government with fewer services" over "larger government with more services" by 54% to 41%, up from 50%-45% a year earlier (independents were even more pronounced, at 61%-35%). A Rasmussen poll from April showed that 77% of Americans preferred a "free market" economy over a "government managed" economy, up seven percentage points from just last December. A July CBS poll found that 52% of Americans think that Obama is trying to do "too much."
After 11 months of federal bailouts and freakouts, Americans have become bone tired of panicky power grabs from Washington. It's the big government, stupid.
The message of the various Tea Party protests, which predated this summer's ahistorical media panic over town hall "lynch mobs," has been pretty simple, says Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the nonprofit that has helped organize the protests, told Reason magazine this spring. "It was: stop spending so much money, stop borrowing so much money, and stop bailing out people who were irresponsible."
It's a reality that surely haunts the politically sensitive Obama administration: Ever since George W. Bush first tried to cram the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) down the throats of largely unwilling citizens, bailouts of failed institutions, from AIG to American Axle, have been enormously unpopular.
Consistently, 60% or more of Americans have opposed the ongoing federal takeover of the domestic automobile industry. And for good reason, too, beyond the crazy economics of throwing good taxpayer money after bad private failure. TARP money was expressly earmarked by Congress for financial institutions, not auto (or any other kind of) manufacturers, which makes the Detroit bailout not only imprudent but illegal.
Financial industry bailouts, too, have been widely reviled. This past week Michael Moore released the trailer for his upcoming agitprop documentary "Capitalism: A Love Story," and it's filled with outrage at the fact that all us working shlubs are, without being asked for permission, shoveling over our hard-earned cash to a bunch of fat-cat Wall Street execs who made bad bets and lost. "Where's our money?" the fat man asks. For a change, he's right.
This isn't about liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. A majority oppose Obama's policies because they fly in the face of this country's bedrock values of personal liberty and limited government. Robbing Peter to pay Goldman Sachs does violence to that fundamentally American ethos.
And increasingly, Obama administration policy does violence to European values, as well. The continent has for the last two decades been systematically disengaging national governments from domestic industries. Top officials from Sweden, of all places, complained about Washington's auto bailout, tersely announcing that "The Swedish state is not prepared to own car factories."
It's not just the boardroom that faces intrusion. Kitchens everywhere should beware Obama's head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, former New York City health commissioner Thomas Frieden, who may ban trans fats and require calorie counts nationally. Obama's chief consumer protection advocate at the Federal Trade Commission is a former Ralph Nader employee who wants to sue companies that don't receive consumer complaints, and his antitrust chief thinks that Google is a prime target for government prosecution.
Meanwhile the administration wants to make college loans a federal "entitlement," national "service" a household word, and video games a target of presidential wrath. The default mindset is government involvement, not private choice.
Americans didn't vote for big government last November. They voted for a guy who looked like he could keep his cool in the heat of battle. If Obama wants to regain that cool, he needs to rein in the power-grabbers in Washington.
Top 10 Obama Government Grabs
1. The Stimulus ($787 billion)
Making government the nation's largest employer.
2. The Omnibus ($410 billion)
Now largely forgotten, this porktastic piece of leftover Bush legislation passed in March without so much as a peep from a new administration that campaigned nobly against earmarks and fiscal irresponsibility.
3. Health Care Reform ($1 trillion?)
The white whale of Obama's domestic agenda; currently under threat from all sides of every aisle.
4. Cap and Trade.
Not yet law, and less likely to become so now that health care reform has hit the skids, this House-approved legislation would nonetheless make producing and consuming energy much more expensive, adding an estimated $1,100 per household by 2050, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
5. Antitrust lawsuits against Google, et al.
Not on everyone's radar screen yet, but the new head of the Justice Department's antitrust division has recently said, regarding everyone's favorite free search engine, that "I think you are going to see a repeat of Microsoft."
6) Pay Czar
As part of the federalization of commerce, the Obama administration appointed a "Special Master for Compensation" to review the top salaries of executives at firms receiving bailout money. This will surely debase their global competitiveness.
7. Turning Pell Grants into an entitlement.
This, like the recently terminated Cash-for-Clunkers program, will doubtlessly prove popular (as most federal programs that give away "free" money usually are), but the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act will, if passed, make the federal government the last big provider of student loans in America.
8. Having the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco.
This Philip Morris-backed development, which will reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes, will keep safer tobacco products off the market while imposing onerous marketing restrictions.
9. Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
Unclear how it will all shake out, but the federal government is preparing steps for unprecedented regulation of all consumer finance transactions. Already, payday lenders are being chased into the black market, and New York is losing its luster as an international capital for finance.
10. Federal Trade Commission overreach.
Again off most radar screens, the former Ralph Naderite who now runs the FTC's Consumer Protection Division has announced intentions to crack down on companies deemed to violate consumer privacy, even if no consumers are complaining.