Obama Refines Philosophy on Big Government
In what his aides billed as a "major" speech on the economy last week, President-elect Barack Obama made an unapologetic case for the need for government to play a large and aggressive role in turning around the faltering economy.
"Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy -- where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending," said Obama at the time.
In Obama's interview with the Post yesterday, a transcript of which The Fix is still going through for news nuggets, Obama seemed to refine that advocacy for a bigger government.
Answering a question about his plans to encourage Americans to heed the call to service, Obama said:
"A part of my message in my inauguration speech, part of my message in every speech I hope to give over the next four years is that government can't do everything and that everybody has got to play a part."
As an example, Obama cited education where he emphasized that no matter how much government involved itself in reform of the school system, the real burden lay with parents and kids.
"I think there is an opportunity for me to be able to speak about the obligations of parents and of students in ramping up our educational performance," Obama said, adding that his position as the first African-American president will allow him to say some things that past presidents couldn't "particularly to inner city America and to African-American fathers."
What's clear from those comments is that Obama's philosophy of government is not simply "bigger is better."
On the economy, he and his team believe government spending is the only way to solve the problem in the short term and keep the already-fragile economy moving. But, on other domestic concerns -- particularly education -- Obama is seeking to make clear that he is not simply a "big government liberal."
Polling shows a public divided about the role government should play in their lives.
The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed more than six in ten (62 percent) Americans want to see the federal government "do something about" the economy -- a far higher number than other potential priorities including foreign policy (22 percent), taxes/government spending (15 percent) and social issues (7 percent).
At the same time, the NBC/WSJ survey showed that less than one in five Americans had either a "great deal" (6 percent) or "quite a bit" (13 percent) of confidence in the federal government. Roughly half of the sample (47 percent) expressed "some" confidence in government while 23 percent had "very little" confidence and 10 percent had "none at all."
Obama is well aware of the fact that simply touting government as the solution to all that ails the country is not smart politics -- even if there is an increasing sense (post Katrina, post economic collapse) that government does have a role to play in the lives of every day Americans.
Balancing people's desire for government to turn the economy around with their continued wariness about having government run their lives will be a central task of the Obama Administration.
And, it's obviously one he and his inner circle have already spent considerable time thinking about as they seek to find the right balance between too much and too little government.
January 16, 2009; 3:50 PM ET
Categories: White House
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