Is transforming America as easy as it now looks?

Charles Krauthammer looks past Barack Obama’s center-left appointees and sees in “the real Obama” a transformer, not a centrist. Krauthammer argues, as we have, that Obama’s foreign policy team reflects his goal of keeping foreign policy and national security policy non-controversial so he can focus on imposing a leftist domestic policy. Similarly, the Geithner-Summers-Volcker economic team is intended to help stabilize the financial system, a prerequisite for a successful Obama presidency.

Krauthammer argues, as we have, that with these bases covered Obama can seize on the deepening recession as a basis for federal intervention and government experimentation on a scale not seen since the New Deal. Specifically, Obama has the opportunity to “plant the seeds for everything he cares about: a new green economy, universal health care, a labor resurgence, government as benevolent private-sector ‘partner.'”

Krauthammer’s thesis is sound, but he may be underestimating potential barriers to Obama’s agenda. He claims that “with the country clamoring for action. . .all psychological barriers to government intervention [are] obliterated. . .” This is an overstatement. The way clearly has been paved for certain kinds of intervention. But it’s not clear that, in the current crisis, the way has been cleared for an enormously expensive government takeover of the health care system or for the imposition of a “green economy.” Obama may get both, but his prospects would be better in the absence of the current ills. Indeed, widespread support for these particular agenda items may depend on restoring economic stability, as Krauthammer seems to recognize in his discussion of the role of Obama’s centrist economic team.

There may also be a tension between certain elements of Obama’s radical agenda, as Krauthammer defines. Thus, as Power Line reader James Salmon explained to me yesterday, a “labor resurgence” may not be altogether compatible with “a new green economy.” For example, the new “green” plants and manufacturing systems that will build super fuel-efficient automobiles will bear little resemblance to those in which the UAW has able to keep its massive membership prosperous.

Krauthammer concludes that Obama “has the moxie, the money, and the mandate to transform America.” But there is transformation and transformation. Moreover, as John has argued, Obama seems to have a cautious side. Thus, the scope of the transformation he will seek early on remains to be seen. So does the scope of the transformation that will be possible as time passes.

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