Commentary

Obama Taking Advantage of the Crisis

By Will Wilkinson
This article appeared on Marketplace on March 11, 2009.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has said. “Never waste a good crisis” is how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it before a European audience last week.

The author, Naomi Klein, has dubbed the exploitation of crisis for political ends “the shock doctrine.” Klein says it’s a special tactic of the right, but as Emanuel and Clinton make clear, it’s just how politics works.

Not about to waste his opportunity, Obama’s going big. A cap and trade carbon permit system, a fundamental overhaul of American health care, and huge new subsidies for “green” technology are just a few of the big-ticket items the president wants to nail down before his window of crisis closes.

Meanwhile, there’s the crisis itself, which only continues to deepen. At its heart is the wreckage of the American banking system. So what is the administration’s plan? Even the experts are struggling to say what it comes to. The transparency Obama promised has not been forthcoming.

And the new Treasury seems about as cozy with the banks it’s bailing out as the old one. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has already been honored with a “Saturday Night Live” sketch portraying him as the embodiment of indecisive ineffectuality. The markets, unnerved by the government’s lack of clarity, continue their free fall.

During the campaign, Obama repeatedly said, “We took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq.” The real problem, he said, was al Qaeda. And he was right. But now I fear Obama has taken our eye off the ball. While focusing so much energy on not wasting the crisis, the crisis itself has deepened from neglect. So let’s get our eye back on the ball before the crisis wastes us.

Media Appearance Will Wilkinson says by taking advantage of the crisis, it’s deepening from neglect on Marketplace (March 11, 2009) [MP3]

Will Wilkinson is a research fellow at the Cato Institute.