Last week I offered an excessively pessimistic premortem to the third and final debate. In response, commenter TGirsch accused me of “sour grapes” for suggesting that the presumably inevitable Obama election would lead to an equally inevitable New Depression and a return to the Warren Court. The discussion focused largely on TGirsch’s incorrect use of the phrase “sour grapes” (repeated here) in that while my post was sour indeed, it had absolutely, positively NOTHING to do with grapes. I did promise a substantive response to the depression and Warren Court issues, however, so here it is.
First, the part most readers care about: the New Depression. If anyone had asked me two months ago whether Barack Obama’s policies would lead to anything approaching the Great Depression, I’d have said no way. Of course his quasi-socialist policies are stupid and counterproductive, and of course they’re going to make the economy’s roar a little more muted in good times, and maybe stretch the occasional and inevitable recession just a wee bit in the bad, but the odds of it actually causing a recession where none would otherwise have existed would have seemed remote, and the odds of it causing a full-blown depression would have been unthinkable.
Then the financial industry imploded and the economy got so obviously bad that even Glenn Reynolds no longer asks “Dude, where’s my recession?” I may be a little pessimistic to use the phrase “new depression” right now (note that I began using it three weeks ago, and not in connection with anything having to do with Obama), but I do believe that under the best case scenario, we’re in a worse than average recession, and possibly a mini-depression.
This is where Barack Obama comes in. During the normal cycles, doing nothing pretty well guarantees us a brief recession every 6-8 years, followed by a recovery that no one acknowledges until years after the fact. Politically, whatever party was perceived to be in power (usually the party that did control the Presidency) at the time the recession was first perceived by the masses (almost never the precise time that it actually occurred, if indeed it did occur) gets dinged, and whatever party was perceived to have been in power when everyone thought times were good again gets rewarded. But barring radical change (e.g., the policies Bill Clinton sought in the first two years of his first term, not the relatively modest changes he actually got), the peaks and valleys come and go as they will, and public perceptions aside, who controls what branch of the federal government plays only a very minor role.
But that’s the key: “barring radical change.” Obama’s raison d’être is “change.” And not just any old change, mind you, but specifically changes in the direction of ever more regulation and the downright Marxist goal of “spreading the wealth around” rather than creating and maintaining opportunities to generate wealth anew. If Obama had a remotely centrist record in the past, I might chalk up the hopey-changey talk to empty campaign rhetoric, and harbor a fair amount of hope that once the election was over and he was actually in power, he’d “triangulate” his way into a more palatably boring and centrist approach. But given the radical record he has had on just about every controversial issue there is – not to mention endorsements and memberships in the openly socialist New Party in two past election cycles – I don’t see him operating on the (post-Morris) Clinton model. Rather, I see him adopting FDR’s New Deal as the goal, with similar results. We probably could have afforded Obama four, eight, twelve or even sixteen years ago. I don’t believe we can today.
As to the Supreme Court, Tom does have a decent point on one count: to the extent that the Justices most likely to be replaced in the next four years are the two most liberal ones, the effect of an Obama Presidency on the Supreme Court may be more of the same, rather than a radical shift to the left. With a little luck, this may be the one branch of government where Obama will have to settle for audaciously hoping for change, seeking it at every turn, and concluding in the end that “no, we can’t.” Maybe, but it’s not something I’m willing to bet the Constitution on. Scalia’s up there in the years, too, and too many critical issues hang in the balance. In 2003, the “conservative” Supreme Court upheld McCain-Feingold, the grossly unconstitutional “reform” that may well have guaranteed that neither McCain nor Feingold will ever advance beyond the Senate, by a 5-4 margin. Today’s Supreme Court would likely side with the First Amendment by exactly that same margin, just as it did do this past term on the question of whether or not the First and Third Amendments had anything else lodged in between them – expect a similar split
if when the “truth” squads use their Presidency and filibuster-proof Senate to bring back the infamous “Fairness” Doctrine. McCain voted to confirm both justices, which by itself says very little. Obama opposed both, joined an attempted filibuster against one, and sought a filibuster against the other, not because anyone with an IQ above room temperature in Wasilla, AK entertained the slightest doubts as to whether either Roberts or Alito was qualified, but simply because both were deemed too likely to interpret the Constitution to mean what it says rather than what liberals might prefer it to say.
At the risk of sounding like Joe Biden: let me say this again. During Obama’s brief tenure as a U.S. Senator, he has had exactly two opportunities to weigh in on who should sit on the Supreme Court. If Obama had gotten his way either time, the First and Second Amendments as we know them would not exist. Affirmative action? Forget the close cases that nearly struck it down; watch for the new cases that mandate it outright. Forget about Roe v. Wade; once Stevens and Ginsburg are replaced with ideological clones who will remain for decades to come, it’s there forever.