We start 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime, a crisis that has only deepened over the last few weeks. […]
Now, I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don’t take dramatic action as soon as possible. […]
There is no doubt that the cost of this plan will be considerable. It will certainly add to the budget deficit in the short term.
But equally certain are the consequences of doing too little or nothing at all, for that will lead to an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy.
It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth. But at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the cycle that is crippling our economy.
Barack Obama, in an economic statement Jan. 9, ten days before he takes office.
When politicians use the word “crisis”, it makes me nervous.
We’re just saying goodbye to eight years of crisis talk by the Bush administration. To be precise, seven years and four months: from Sept. 11, 2001, through to the last days of the Bush presidency.
To paraphrase Obama: a crisis justifies government in taking dramatic action. Right away!
At least he didn’t add, If you don’t support the government’s plan, you’re a commie faggot terrorist-sympathizing elitist anti-American enemy of freedom!
The p.s. is a paraphrase of President Bush, of course. Aggressive rhetoric was Bush’s standard tactic to suppress political opposition and democratic debate. And for a while, it worked. President Bush’s crisis talk produced a compliant population and a compliant political opposition.
Hence the title of this post: Beware politicians who warn of a crisis.
We’re just saying goodbye to eight years of crisis talk by the Bush administration, and President-elect Obama is preparing to take office with some crisis talk of his own. It’s worrisome.
I’m an Obama supporter and I think there’s good reason to trust him. There seems to be a consensus among economists that a big stimulus package is the right medicine for this economic, uh … crisis.
The LA Times says that Keynesian economic theory has been discredited, but I don’t agree. What has been discredited is the tendency of certain governments to run massive deficits in times of prosperity. Take another bow, President Bush:
The federal government had a modest budget surplus when Bush took office in 2001, but ran a deficit — funding itself to a significant degree with borrowed money — of 4.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2004 and 4 percent in 2005, even as the economy was growing at a healthy pace.
Moreover, the fact that a bunch of hard-right Republican types are crying foul, and demanding big tax cuts for the wealthy instead, only strengthens my conviction that Obama has the right idea.
But when governments engage in crisis talk, the public needs to become exceptionally alert. The public should have been less credulous post 9/11. We should have grown suspicious when the administration kept changing its rationale for the invasion of Iraq. We should have paused to consider whether it was wise to divert attention to another theatre of war while Osama bin laden was still on the loose. We should have asked whether the prediction that American troops would be greeted as liberators, with flowers, was absurd and utopian. And when things went badly awry, the public should have demanded a change in leadership and a change in strategy — the sort of change that was finally introduced to Iraq only in 2006.
In a word, the public should have been more sceptical.
We shouldn’t forget this lesson now, just because Barack Obama is riding a wave of good will. He has impressed us greatly so far, and we all want him to succeed.
But that doesn’t mean we should avert our eyes, and let him run the show however he chooses. We should consider alternative points of view — unless the alternative prescription is to continue the very policies which have proven disastrous.
In fact, one of the reasons I trust Obama is because he engages with dissenting points of view instead of suppressing them. That may be the single most important metric to monitor. If Obama is engaging with his detractors, transparently and respectfully, we can take considerable comfort in that.
But if a time should come when Obama begins to belittle his political opponents and dismiss their suggestions reflexively — that would be a huge warning sign.
The general principle is, Beware politicians who warn of a crisis. Obama certainly deserves our trust as he takes office — but he deserves our scrutiny, too. That’s how democracy works.