A bit somber, but needs to be read.
KUHNER: The Peron pattern
Jeffrey T. Kuhner
Sunday, February 15, 2009
America is heading down the road to socialism - and ruin. Numerous proposals have been enacted to reverse the economic downturn. First, in the spring of 2008 came the $180 billion stimulus program. Then, the 2008 summer $345 billion housing bailout. This was followed by the 2008 fall $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.
Now, the House and Senate have passed a nearly $800 billion stimulus package. Hence, more than $2 trillion will have been spent in a futile attempt to revive the economy.
We are imposing upon our children and grandchildren the burdensome costs of our addiction to big government. And this doesn't even take into account Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's plan for the taxpayer to absorb another $2 trillion to $4 trillion in debt to clean up the financial system. In other words, America is being buried under a mountain of debt - a debt that will trigger soaring inflation, crushing taxes and high interest rates. This is a recipe for economic disaster.
President Obama is playing Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush's Herbert Hoover. In the 1930s, it was FDR who expanded his New Deal liberalism from the activist policies of Hoover. Mr. Obama is building upon the massive budget deficits and reckless government spending of the Bush administration. Unlike Mr. Bush, however, Mr. Obama is shrewdly erecting an enduring majority electoral coalition - just as FDR did.
The stimulus plan has something for every important Democratic special interest group - labor, the teachers unions, big-city bosses, environmentalists, Hispanics, and African-Americans. Key constituencies will benefit from school construction, infrastructure projects, public works, retooling federal buildings with green technologies, expanding Medicaid and unemployment insurance, and more money for strapped states and localities. The plan is primarily designed not to stimulate the economy, but the size and scope of government. More citizens will be dependent upon government largesse. This empowers the Democratic Party and its liberal elite.
As National Review's Jonah Goldberg has rightly noted, modern American liberalism is a form of fascism - otherwise known as national socialism. Its goal is to establish a centralized corporatist state, in which a ruling class manages to transfer power from the private to the public sector.
Liberalism champions huge entitlements, expensive social programs and the regimentation of nearly every aspect of people's lives - from smoking bans and university admissions policies, to prayer in schools and how much right-wing talk-radio one can listen to. It seeks to dominate not only politics and the economy, but culture and the arts as well.
Liberalism fuses statism with class-based populism. It is perpetually at war against some perceived national enemy, whether it be the "rich," conservative Republicans or traditional Christians. It designates an entire group of people - in America, it is unborn babies - as being less than fully human and lacking basic rights. It believes that politics, not religion, is the salvation of humanity. It constructs mass movements based on charismatic, messianic leaders, such as Woodrow Wilson, FDR, John F. Kennedy and Mr. Obama, bestowing upon them almost divine, saintly qualities. It is obsessed with using activist government in the service of social engineering. Since liberalism is consumed with power, it contains the seeds of its own destruction; it is the ideology of national suicide.
The disastrous path on which America is currently embarked was tried in another country - in the Western Hemisphere: Juan Peron's Argentina. During the 1940s until a 1955 coup ousted him from power, Peron presided over a fascist state.
What is not commonly known about Argentina is that prior to World War II, it was an economic powerhouse. Beginning in the 1880s and continuing through the 1920s and 1930s, it was regarded as one of the most prosperous and advanced nations in the world.
Argentina had a strong industrial base, thriving agricultural exports and a broad and expanding middle class. Like America, it served as a magnet for immigrants from all over the world, especially Italians. Within 15 years, however, Argentina went from being one of the richest to one of the poorest countries.
This was due largely to Peronist policies. Upon coming to office, Peron, along with his popular wife, Eva, established a corporatist state characterized by lavish social spending, elaborate welfare programs, protectionism, confiscatory taxation and runaway deficits.
Peron used strident class warfare rhetoric, attacking big business, the banks, corporations and the propertied class. He greatly strengthened labor unions, making them pivotal allies of his regime.
Peronism transformed the Argentine state. The bloated bureaucracy and massive government intervention fostered widespread corruption. Central economic planning destroyed productivity and growth. Investment capital fled. Inflation and interest rates soared. The middle class was wiped out. The independent judiciary was undermined and eventually smashed. The fawning media class became co-opted by Peron's allies. His -and Eva's - cult of personality fostered a climate of violence and political persecution of the regime's enemies. Argentina degenerated into the Latin American basket case that it is today.
The failure of Peronism should serve as a warning: Socialism and a sky-rocketing national debt can permanently impoverish even the wealthiest nations. America is not immune from the laws of economics. Prosperous republics - ancient Rome, the Italian city-states, Argentina - have seen their wealth squandered, never to recover.
Mr. Obama is taking the first dangerous steps toward an American version of Peronism. His followers see him as a political messiah, a revolutionary change agent who will foster national cohesion and unity. He and the Democrats are plundering the state, using it as a vehicle to reward supporters (and punish foes). He is our Dear Leader, whose image is everywhere from magazine covers to T-shirts to baseball caps. His wife, Michelle, is the Eva Peron of our time - glamorous, chic, a fashion trend-setter who is beloved by the media.
Most ominously, Mr. Obama is repeating the statist populism that didn't work in Argentina, and will not work in America. Professor Philip Jenkins wryly observes that the United States of America risks becoming "the United States of Argentina." He is right. Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and the president of the Edmund Burke Institute, Washington think tank.