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March, 6th 2009

Obama, Bush, Johnson and government growth

– Liz Mair

OK, so David Brooks has been writing stuff about how President Obama is moving the country to the left, drawing as a case in point the budget, which today he calls "a liberal, big government document that should make moderates nervous."

As someone who is occasionally described as a moderate (and who certainly is more a moderate than a conservative), and doesn't totally disclaim the label (though I'm more a libertarian, really), I have to agree with this.

But it appears Greg Sargent does not.  In discussing apparent thoughts expressed by the White House to Brooks about his column from Tuesday, which Greg initially construed as a tad defensive, Greg posits that:

maybe what we’re seeing here is more of the Obama team’s efforts to redefine the moderate center. 

[...]

Yes, the Obama team is attempting an expansion of government activism not seen since Lyndon Johnson. But they’re redefining this type of government action as not radical at all, as the sensible and even moderate course, given the circumstances. And they’re saying this because that’s really how they see it.

I'm not going to argue that the redefining is what is being attempted, or that the administration really thinks that an outsized budget, following on the heels of a big stimulus package that many would also call outsized, is "moderate" (they probably do see it that way, even though I think they're bonkers, if indeed they do). 

But let's get one thing straight.  If we measure expansion of government activism by expansion of spending, then the Obama team is actually attempting an expansion of government activism not seen since... George W. Bush.  Or at least if you believe the CATO Institute (just look at the chart next to the article).

I didn't like Bush's big spending at all.  I similarly dislike Obama's a great deal.  As far as I'm concerned, so far as this issue goes, they're both to the left of a great many people.  That is irrespective of whether the old White House bods wanted to claim one was a conservative who was simply faced with tough challenges (by which I still believe they must have meant an inability on the Prez's part to find a pen to veto bills with) meaning he "had" to spend massive heaps of cash, and whether the new White House bods want to claim their guy is "moderate" and/or "sensible," given the current circumstances.

(For the record, I know the figures referenced in the above link refer to discretionary spending.  Re: non-discretionary, which of course Johnson expanded lots, let's not forget Medicare Part D). [intro]

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