04 March 2009

Shock and Awe: Obama’s First Forty Days

In describing the rapidity and voracity with which the Obama administration and Congress have pursued the decapitation of America, it is not inappropriate to apply the military concept of rapid dominance, better known by the term “shock and awe.”

Though the president is surely well-intentioned and in no way regards the American public as an “enemy,” in his pursuit of political power he nonetheless conforms to “shock and awe” objectives: overwhelming and dominating the landscape so rapidly, there is little will or ability to resist. Just as the targets of a military attack can be incapacitated and disoriented by a sudden overpowering blitz, so too the American people seem to be stunned and unable to fathom or resist the onslaught of government intervention. The American citizen, faced with a bailout yesterday, a budget and “stimulus package” today, and more bailouts tomorrow, is rendered senseless by the number of zeroes following the dollar signs. He cannot comprehend it. It is a sort of shell shock. By the time any kind of backlash takes hold, we will be immersed in a socialist bog from which it will take decades to pull ourselves out.[Note 1.] Entitlements, once issued, are rarely removed. Freedoms, once abrogated, are difficult to restore.

In a mere forty days, the president has, among other things, signaled his foreign policy direction by granting his very first interview as president to Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya Arab TV; indicated his domestic policy direction by signing as his very first bill the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which dictates to employers the wages they can offer to employees; shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility without resolving what to do with the remaining detainees; pushed through and signed the $789 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a comprehensive government spending program that defies comparison to any other in American history, save perhaps to the New Deal programs that prolonged the Great Depression; laid the groundwork for nationalizing the banks[Note 2.]; issued a $275 billion Housing Plan to ensure that people could stay in homes they can’t afford; signed an executive order expanding the faith-based initiatives started by President Bush; advanced the Treasury Department’s Financial Stability Plan and its Capital Assistance Program.

And last week, Mr. Obama released his budget proposal, A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promise. It is a promise indeed, but of staggering irresponsibility.

What he calls “fiscal responsibility” is to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term - a sheer fantasy with the explosion of manifestly irresponsible spending that he advocates. What he calls a “fair tax code” is a “tax cut” for 95% of American workers, which means only that more burden is placed on the remaining 5% that are the greatest producers.[Note 3.] What he calls “clean energy economy” is to waste money and effort capitulating to “green” special interests. What he means by “real health care reform” is to spend billions of dollars to render our health care system as incompetent and unjust as any other socialized system in the world.

The president promises to increase food stamp benefits, to create a National Infrastructure Bank, to “invest” billions of dollars in roads, bridges, mass transit, high-speed rail, air traffic control, and broadband access, to divert billions of dollars to “clean” energy supplies, miscellaneous “green” research, weatherizing private homes, reforming farms and utilities, and to further federalize schools. The list goes on and on.

To summarize, President Obama and the Democratic Congress have in just forty days not only delivered a devastating wave of government intervention that has rocked the bulwarks of our liberty - bulwarks, incidentally, that were already cracked from previous storms of Republican controls - but have promised that a tsunami of their bounteous tyranny is yet to come.


In the first sentence of this post, I accused the Obama administration and Congress of pursuing the decapitation of America. I use the word “decapitation” not in the typical military parlance meaning to kill or dethrone the head of state. Rather, I mean that the federal government is directly attacking productive minds.

One would think that with such breadth and scope of the government’s reach, with such a multiplicity of simultaneous intentions, it would be hard to find a coherent principle behind Mr. Obama’s policies - yet, this is not the case. The clear and consistent theme of the Obama administration is to sacrifice individual producers on the altar of so-called “liberal” policy. The more one thinks, works, and earns, the more one is to be disposed of by the state.

Effort, ingenuity, and talent, which would constitute the fortune of a free man, become his yoke in the welfare state.

On page 17 of his budget proposal, Mr. Obama reveals a significant clue to his intentions:

The past eight years have discredited once and for all the philosophy of trickle-down economics - that tax breaks, income gains, and wealth creation among the wealthy eventually will work their way down to the middle class. In its place, we need economic opportunity to trickle up.[Note 4.]

Putting aside the association of “trickle-down economics” with specific policies of the late twentieth century - namely, so-called supply-side economics or “Reaganomics” - there is an important and universal truth in the concept itself. There is absolutely no question that in a free country, people create and trade wealth to the benefit of all. It is not “wealth creation among the wealthy,” as Mr. Obama puts it (making it seem like “wealth creation” is just something that occurs in nature, to be enjoyed by a privileged class), but wealth created by the wealthy, that “trickles down” to all. Who can deny that in free and even semi-free nations, the citizens who are relatively poor benefit enormously from the efforts of those that are more productive - and crucially, without those productive citizens being compelled to deliver or even being aware of the benefits they confer?

In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the hero John Galt expresses this:

“In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the ‘competition’ between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of ‘exploitation’ for which you have damned the strong. [Note 5.]

But there is one vital prerequisite for this “trickle down,” one essential condition required for this incalculable benefit to every human being: political freedom.

For the president to deny that wealth created by men who are permitted to associate and exchange freely does in fact “trickle down” is either a colossal evasion or a deliberate deception. And for him to announce his promise to reverse this principle - to compel wealth to “trickle up” (whatever that is supposed to mean) - is an alarming threat to all Americans, but particularly to those at whom the threat is leveled: the most productive Americans.

It certainly did not start with Barack Obama, but since he has taken the Oval Office, a fact has become very clear. The federal government has declared war on the men of the mind.


1. “Decades” is an optimistic estimate that assumes we will be able to gradually shift the culture toward reason and self-interest. Incidentally, though this post is focused on President Obama’s first forty days in office, I do not wish to downplay the fact that it was the Republicans that started this latest round of expanding government. Messrs. Bush, Paulson, and company gave the Democrats all the push they needed.

2. For more on this, see my post, “Greasing the Skids for Nationalization of Financial Insititutions.”

3. I put “tax cut” in scare quotes because I do not see how it is possible to cut taxes for 95% of American workers when far fewer than 95% pay taxes in the first place.

4. The quote is from the president’s budget proposal, “A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promise,” White House, 2009, p. 20. Shortly after denigrating the trickle-down effect, the President has the gall to add, referring to of his own socialist policies, that “some may say that in this environment this [i.e. establishing his own programs] is aiming too high. Settling never has been the American way, and now is no time to lower our sights.” He brazenly rallies his followers to participate in the systematic destruction of America by appealing to their American spirit!

5. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Signet/Penguin Books, New York 1957, reprinted 1992, p. 989.


I fixed a couple of minor typographical errors.


Galileo Blogs said...

Nice post. You do a great job of providing a high level overview of the whirlwind of Obama's first 40 days of power-grabbing, and tying it to the principles it represents.

Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, but to me at least it begs the question, "What can we do"? Is there some place those of us who fancy ourselves producers can go where we won't be punished for our hard work? Will there be enough of this country left in 4 to 8 years to make it worth salvaging?

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the comments, GB and Anon.

What can we do? My wife and I talk about this all the time. I'm not sure what to do beyond writing letters to the editor, blogging, and not letting an opportunity go by in ordinary conversations at work, etc., to plug the right ideas.

Where can we go? If Galt's Gulch exists, somebody please let me know where it is.

Will there be enough of this country left in four to eight years? Well, if by four to eight years, you are referring to the next president, I don't hold out much hope for that. I do not think things would be any better if we had elected John McCain or any other Republican. In fact, it would be worse. The dive toward socialism would have been a little weaker - say, only about 70% to 90% of what Mr. Obama is doing - but appallingly, everything would have been blamed on freedom. At least now, with the Democrats holding the Executive and Legislative branches, we have a chance that the right ideas - that is to say, the wrong ideas - will receive the blame. Unless the Republican party entirely remakes itself in the next few years by explicitly eschewing religion and embracing individual rights, I don't want a Republican to replace Mr. Obama.

Though I get discouraged at time, I don't despair. Like Dostoyevsky's "seven righteous men," if a few of us hold the right ideas and spread them as we can, there is hope. We are very badly outnumbered, but we have one enormous advantage: Reality herself is on our side.

Rational Jenn said...

Great post! Thanks for sending it to the carnival!