NBC's Chuck Todd made an interesting observation yesterday about how Obama’s speech signaled a goal to equal Reagan’s impact, in that a push to get the country to again embrace ‘progressivism’ echoes the old Actor’s efforts to propel conservative views into the mainstream. Chuck’s idea, however, may give a tad too much credit to both of these Oval Office occupiers.
The success of the conservative wave in Reagan’s day owed in large part to the excesses and failures of the preceding years at all levels of government – an era when infrastructure, education, energy supply, and public safety were all visibly rotting, despite a relatively high tax burden. The public sentiment at the time was “enough, already.” Remember, California’s Prop 13, the 1978 incarnation of tax revolt, had already taken place under ol’ Gov. Moonbeam.
In a similar way, our more recent failures – with infrastructure and education deficiencies still at the fore, joined now by a wobbly health care system, income inequality, wage stagnation, and burgeoning deficits from wars and spending we didn’t budget for – fester at a time when we have a relatively low tax burden. The conservative “revolution” of basically draining the revenue side of the ledger through lower taxes wasn’t a solution. That emperor was buck naked.
More importantly, it exposed how the steady withdrawal of government over the last 30 years from a role as safety net provider – and as an engine to encourage fair, livable wages for the working and middle classes – has torn our social fabric. Maybe Obama can take some credit if he steers us back toward a saner balance, but he’ll mostly have the overreach of recent years – and a public that’s finally had enough, again – to thank for it.