The Dillard Doctrine

Urban Conservative Commentary on Politics & Life

Barack Obama and the Problem with Modern Liberalism

The 2008 election of Barack Obama is viewed as the height of modern liberalism, a school of thought that “combines a belief in a strong government to provide economic security and protection for civil rights with a belief in freedom from government intervention in social conduct (Dye, p. 44-45).”  Modern liberalism found its birth in the New Deal programs of FDR, who viewed the presidency as an opportunity to leverage the power of the presidency to drive social change. In the first year of Obama’s presidency, his administration, with help from a Democratic majority in Congress, has transformed the American political landscape in way much similar to FDR. His ideas – reflected in the legislation he has proposed and signed – mark a profound shift from the idea of a limited government envisioned by the Founding Fathers  to a government bureaucracy that has, at its heart, the goal of “correct[ing] the perceived ills of society” (Dye, 45).

Obama’s writings and speeches reflect a desire for the construction of a social compact that would renew “widespread economic security.”  During his campaign – and particularly during the economic crisis that dominated the last months of 2008 – many Obama supporters stated that he would need to return government to a position of strength not seen since FDR’s “New Deal” administration. Concurrently, these supporters also suggested that he would need to spend billions of federal dollars in areas of the American economy that, historically, were vastly supported by efforts and ventures in the private sector.

In writing the Constitution, its authors envisioned a government that was strong enough to hold the country together, but not so strong that it exerted control over the natural rights of man as set in the Declaration of Independence. They viewed their finished document as the one that would “govern the government” (Dye, 57) and set the rules for policy making and debate.  However in the early days of Obama’s presidency, he and the Congress seemed more willing to look toward public opinion for their “permission” to move legislation forward. The components that drove the Obama ascendancy – most noticeably his massive support organization now known as Organizing for America (OFA ) – enabled Obama to assume a popular mandate to move American government toward a goal of, in his words, “advancing our common prosperity.” Believing this mandate enabled them to take the steps their supporters demanded with their votes, the young administration would move forward with a federal spending spree that eclipses that of many of the most recent presidential administrations, as well as sweeping healthcare legislation that calls into question Obama’s understanding of the Constitution, a subject he once taught at the University of Chicago Law School for a decade before he left in 2003 to run for the United States Senate.

One of the ideas entrenched in the Constitution is that of federalism, defined as the separation of powers between a central national government and the individual governments of the states, with ultimately sovereignty in the hands of the people. This concept of individual and state sovereignty would be codified in the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution. This concept stands in direct contrast to healthcare legislation signed by Obama earlier this year, which requires every individual in the country to have health insurance – meeting minimal standards prescribed by the government – by 2014 or be subject to an additional tax on their income. If found constitutional (several states including Virginia are challenging it), the idea of the federal government bypassing state governments to effect compliance with a law could strike a heavy blow to the federalism envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

What will ultimately doom Obama’s agenda and by extension our country is the modern liberal’s belief that in order to “equalize” society, government must take an expanded role in the day to day lives of Americans. This idea flies in the face of everything the Founding Fathers envisioned at the outset of the American experience.  The problem with modern liberalism is that it requires the individual to submit many components that establish his natural rights to the control of the government. For those individuals who refuse this submission, the modern liberal government would legislatively impose it. Modern liberalism creates the government feared by Jefferson – one big enough to take away the very rights of the individual in the utopian quest to provide him with what he “needs.”

The programs of the New Deal set America on a path of expanded federal control and massive spending that continue to plague our nation. In political fairness, Republicans have been occasionally complicit in the rise of modern liberalism (George W. Bush’s expansion of Medicare is a good example). Its expansion under President Obama however continues to lead our nation further down an unsustainable course that not only threatens our security, but poses a threat to the very rights on which our government – and our basic human dignity – is based.


Written by Coby Dillard

June 21, 2010 at 7:50 am

Posted in Editorials

%d bloggers like this: