What's the true target of the Obama blitz -- the actual "problems" the country faces or a fractured, exhausted Republican Party that seems totally unprepared to combat a president who looks like a "natural"?
It's an important question because -- the party's unity on the stimulus package aside -- the GOP looks as adrift as Democrats did in 1981 when Ronald Reagan took control with a sweeping agenda that completely upset the previous governing consensus.
Facing the prospect of an $800 billion stimulus bill, Republican Leader John Boehner said, "Oh. My. God."
In the face of a record $3.6 trillion budget -- and a current year deficit of $1.75 trillion (another record) -- what can he say now?
This isn't the return of "the era of big government." This is the appearance of elephantine government not seen since since perhaps World War II. Certainly, the social programming vision is of a level not seen since the 1960s.
This would not be possible were it not for the remarkable rhetorical and charismatic skills of Barack Obama.
His address to the nation was received well by the nation -- and laid the groundwork for this $3.6 trillion budget. In essence, Obama has become the anti-Reagan -- with the skills to convince a country that the world has changed and it needs to believe in his vision. And he could pull it off, as the congressional GOP looks as befuddled and overwhelmed as did congressional Democrats in 1981-82.
But, one must ask: If Obama is Reagan, who is the Jimmy Carter that enabled this transformation to occur? If it's the most obvious culprit -- George W. Bush -- had things really gotten so bad on his watch, that they necessitated such a dramatic course correction?
Well, in part -- though it is arguable that the credit crunch and recession had, together, as much of an impact as the months of stagflation under Carter.
What can't be ignored, however, is that both Carter and Bush adopted policies that opened the door for the critique of government that their successor jack up to a previously unimagined level.
Yet, the neo-liberal Carter deregulated the airline industry and trucking lines -- actions rather antithetical to his liberal base. Of course, those actions played perfectly into conservative Reagan's anti-regulatory worldview. Reagan had an ideal ally in Carter's Fed Chairman, Paul Volcker. The two teamed up to wring inflation out of the economy.
Last fall, by authorizing the TARP bank bailout, Bush infuriated his conservative base -- and split the congressional wing of his party.
But, in a broader way, the unpopular Bush created the beginning of bipartisan consensus -- from the point of view of the American public -- on the need for greater government intervention in the private sector. If the "conservative" Bush and his "conservative" administration were going quasi-socialist to deal with the credit crunch, maybe the era of the "era of big government is over" -- is over.
And, thus, begins the greater spending that comes with the new era. And so, as a weakened ineffectual Jimmy Carter opened the door for a charismatic visionary Ronald Reagan, so too apparently did a weakened ineffectual George W. Bush lay the groundwork for a charismatic, visionary Barack Obama.
The Reagan stamp on government essentially lasted for nearly three decades. How long will Obama's?
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.