Mr Brown goes to Washington
January 20th 2010 saw the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. But he is unlikely to have felt like celebrating as, the previous day, the voters of Massachusetts had elected the Republican Scott Brown.
It’s hard to overstate just how strange a result this is. The Senate seat won by Brown had been held by Teddy Kennedy, perhaps the biggest name in Democratic party politics, for 47 years until his death last year. In 1972, the last year it had a Republican Senator, Massachusetts was the only state to vote for George McGovern against Richard Nixon. It is as though a Conservative had won in Glasgow East.
Neither is this a one off. In November the Democrat governors of New Jersey and Virginia were ousted and this despite the presence of President Obama on the campaign trail. Or perhaps this was a cause? Obama’s approval rating has slipped from highs of 68% on election to barely 50% now. TEA parties (Taxed Enough Already) have sprung up across the States protesting about the $1.6 trillion deficit and town hall meetings have revealed a profound unease with the administrations plans for healthcare. Perhaps Americans voting for change in 2008 have come to realize that a man who was the product of the political machine of the most corrupt city in the country was, perhaps, not the person to achieve it.
This remarkable turn of events has come about because the change promised so repetitiously by Obama and his followers has turned out not to amount to very much. President Obama is a solid believer in big, activist government. But so was George W Bush.
President Obama has hemorrhaged more political capital on his health reforms than on any other issue. His aims have been to correct what he sees as the failure of the market in health insurance to cover all Americans and to make healthcare cheaper. Quite what form his eventual bill will take remains a mystery, the House of Representatives and Senate have a bill each with only the Senate’s bill actually passed. Besides, the election of Scott Brown now gives the Republicans the 41 Senate seats they need to filibuster any bill that shows up there. What was clear though, at every stage, was that ‘Obamacare’, in whatever form, amounted to a massive expansion of the role of the Federal government.
But this does not represent any kind of change from the administration of George W Bush who said “We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move”. Indeed, the Bush administration oversaw the largest increase in spending since Lyndon Johnson gave the US ‘The Great Society’. Between 2001 and 2007 education spending rose 18% annually as a result of Bush’s cherished No Child Left Behind Act. Agricultural spending was doubled from its 1990s levels by the 2002 Farm Act. Spending on Medicare doubled during the Bush years reaching $431.5 billion in 2007. According to academics at George Mason University, in his eight years in office “President Clinton increased the federal budget by 11 percent. In eight years, President Bush increased it by a whopping 104 percent.”
After the disastrous Bush presidency which left Americans less safe and less prosperous than they had been before, change was necessary. But the change from Bush’s big government to Obama’s big government is no change at all. 235 years ago Massachusetts was the birthplace of a revolution against overbearing government and perhaps the election of Scott Brown signals a new one. It is long overdue.
Written for the UCL Conservative magazine, February 2010