WASHINGTON — “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” That was Barack Obama in 2008. And he was right. Reagan was an ideological inflection point, ending a 50-year liberal ascendancy and beginning a 30-year conservative ascendancy.

It is common for one party to take control and enact its ideological agenda. Ascendancy, however, occurs only when the opposition inevitably regains power and then proceeds to accept the basic premises of the preceding revolution.

Thus, Republicans railed for 20 years against the New Deal. Yet when they regained the White House in 1953, they kept the New Deal intact.

And when Nixon followed LBJ’s Great Society — liberalism’s second wave — he didn’t repeal it. He actually expanded it. Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, gave teeth to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and institutionalized affirmative action — major adornments of contemporary liberalism.

Until Reagan. Ten minutes into his presidency, Reagan declares that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Having thus rhetorically rejected the very premise of the New Deal/Great Society, he sets about attacking its foundations — with radical tax reduction, major deregulation, a frontal challenge to unionism (breaking the air traffic controllers for striking illegally) and an (only partially successful) attempt at restraining government growth.

Reaganism’s ascendancy was confirmed when the other guys came to power and their leader, Bill Clinton, declared that “the era of big government is over.” In Britain, the same phenomenon: Tony Blair did to Thatcherism what Clinton did to Reaganism. He made it the norm.

Obama’s intention has always been to re-normalize, to reverse ideological course, to be the anti-Reagan — the author of a new liberal ascendancy. Nor did he hide his ambition. In his February 2009 address to Congress he declared his intention to transform America. This was no abstraction. He would do it in three areas: health care, education and energy.

Think about that. Health care is one-sixth of the economy. Education is the future. And energy is the lifeblood of any advanced country — control pricing and production and you’ve controlled the industrial economy.

And it wasn’t just rhetoric. He enacted liberalism’s holy grail: the nationalization of health care. His $830 billion stimulus, by far the largest spending bill in U.S. history, massively injected government into the free market — lavishing immense amounts of tax dollars on favored companies and industries in a naked display of industrial policy.

And what Obama failed to pass through Congress, he enacted unilaterally by executive action. He could not pass cap-and-trade, but his EPA is killing coal. In 2006, liberals failed legislatively to gut welfare’s work requirement. Obama’s new HHS rules does that by fiat.

Government grows in size and power as the individual shrinks into dependency. Until the tipping point where dependency becomes the new norm — as it is in Europe, where even minor retrenchment of the entitlement state has led to despair and, for the more energetic, rioting.

An Obama second term means that the movement toward European-style social democracy continues, in part by legislation, in part by executive decree. The American experiment — the more individualistic, energetic, innovative, risk-taking model of democratic governance — continues to recede, yielding to the supervised life of the entitlement state.

Should they summon the skill and dexterity, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan could guide the country to the restoration of a more austere and modest government with more restrained entitlements and a more equitable and efficient tax code. Those achievements alone would mark a new trajectory — a return to what Reagan started three decades ago.

Every four years we are told that the coming election is the most important of one’s life. This time it might actually be true. At stake is the relation between citizen and state, the very nature of the American social contract.

(8) comments

TIGER

We know Obama is a Marxist by his training while living in Hawaii, This is absolutely clear. He is the most un-known comodity ever to step into the White House. In the early 1900's there was Willson, then came FDR, and who knows what the heck James Earl Carter really was, beside being a lunatic! Obama is the new enhanced version of all three. Obama will make a heavy transformation our once strong country, into another Chavez Venezuela where no one has anything while the Dictator has it all!

OldIrish

Excellent ballyhooing, Tiger. No connection with Krauthammer's commentary that I can see, but excellent ballyhoing all the same!

oldone

You know, Charles, perhaps Romney (who is receiving classified intelligence reports from the NSC and others, as a leading candidate for the presidency) has some very good reasons for omitting Bengazi from his stumps speeches. Furthermore, perhaps Romney knows more than the general public on this matter, and he and his strategy team have considered the full issue and its consequences. Romney might be smarter than you, Charles.

Quit saying, on Fox, etc, that Romney should say this or that...

OldIrish

Quite plausible, Oldone. OTOH, since Mitt is trying to finish off his campaign with "no mistakes" and minimize opportunities to bring up sore points, he might be silent on the subject so as to avoid additional commentary about his own insensitve and inapproriate handling of the matter.

Edward Phillips

Dr.K's reading of history is a bit skewed. The big impetus for deregulation started during the Carter Administration (Airlines and Trucking) and was wisely continued under Reagan. Thatcher, the great conservative politician of the era, reduced the monopsony power of the British labor unions but did not dismantel the British Health Service. She understood limits. Public financing of medical care is virtually universal among developed western democracies.
ed phillips

OldIrish

As Krauthammer commentaries go this one was a bit more thoughtful than most. More typically he prefers to take week-old sound bytes from Hannity and Limbaugh, polish them up a bit (a very little bit, at times), and re-bundle them into an op-ed with his name attached. However, to prove that he's incapable of taking the high road he shamelessly decided to perpetuate the "Obama gutted the welfare requirements" thing....which, right alongside the "death panels", is a big, whopping GOP lie.

Edward Phillips

Dr.K husbands his intellectual reputation very carefully, but he is an ideologue. It shows up in the tendentiousness of his writings and rantings. He does put on an enjoyable show.
edward phillips

homers

Maybe Reagan was wrong in his small government philosophy and the country has been on the downhill spiral ever since. A strong Middle Class with decent wages and Single -Payer healthcare is what the country needs.

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