January 29, 2009 3:42PM

Stimulus Package = The Dems’ PATRIOT Act

That’s what Steve Horwitz says here. Like the PATRIOT Act, it’s a preexisting wishlist of initiatives being rammed through in an atmosphere of hysteria. Where the Obama administration has, to its credit, backed away from the language of war and crisis when it comes to international affairs and homeland security, the Obama team seems all too willing to revert to Bush‐​style fearmongering in the service of greater state involvement in the economy.

Yesterday’s coverage in the New York Times (of all places) suggests that the stimulus package is a Trojan Horse effort designed to make dramatic and likely permanent changes in the federal role in health care and education, among other things:

For Democrats, [the stimulus package] is also a tool for rewriting the social contract with the poor, the uninsured and the unemployed, in ways they have long yearned to do….

Altogether, the economic recovery bill would speed $127 billion over the next two and a half years to individuals and states for health care alone, a fact that has Republicans fuming that the stimulus package is a back door to universal health coverage…. The federal share of Medicaid spending now ranges from 50 percent in higher‐​income states like New York and Connecticut to more than 73 percent in poor states like Mississippi and West Virginia. Under the House bill, the federal share would be increased by at least 4.9 percentage points in every state, and by much more in states with large increases in unemployment.

Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government…. In recent years the federal government has contributed 9 percent of the nation’s total spending on public schools, with states and local districts financing the rest. Washington has contributed 19 percent of spending on higher education. The stimulus package would raise those federal proportions significantly. The Department of Education’s discretionary budget for the 2008 fiscal year was about $60 billion. The stimulus bill would raise that to about $135 billion this year, and to about $146 billion in 2010. Other federal agencies would administer about $20 billion in additional education‐​related spending. “This really marks a new era in federal education spending,” said Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of 90 education groups.

Does the Trojan‐​Horse theory sound cynical? Well, as my colleague Will Wilkinson points out, what this country needs, now and ever, is a healthy dose of constructive cynicism:

“There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” President Obama observed in his [inaugural] address. “Their memories are short,” he said, “for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.”

This is a tediously familiar and dangerous message. Can you recall the scale of our recent ambitions? The United States would invade Iraq, refashion it as a democracy and forever transform the Middle East. Remember when President Bush committed the United States to “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world”? That is ambitious scale.

Not only have some of us forgotten “what this country has already done … when imagination is joined to a common purpose,” it’s as if some of us are trying to erase the memory of our complicity in the last eight years—to forget that in the face of a crisis we did transcend our stale differences and cut the president a blank check that paid for disaster. How can we not question the scale of our leaders’ ambitions? How short would our memories have to be?