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Obama Moves Toward Sweeping Ideological Change


President Barack Obama's plan to use the government to jolt the faltering U.S. economy back to life signals the most significant ideological shift in Washington since President Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981.

Candidate Obama promised sweeping change during last year's presidential election, and the scope of that change was on full display in President Obama's recently released 10-year budget plan.

In it, Mr. Obama pledged massive government spending, increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy and large budget deficits.

The president says the economy has grown so weak that only the government can provide the spark to bring it back to life.

"At this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life," he said.

At the same time, President Obama has promised to tackle a number of difficult long- term challenges facing the country, like expanding health care coverage while trying to contain its growing cost, make the U.S. more energy independent and reform education.

It seems like a lot to do all at once, says Fred Barnes, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard.

But Barnes told VOA's Issues in the News program that the president is right to make an early push for his entire agenda.

"There has been a debate on what strategy to follow, and he is following the one that says we are going to do everything at once rather than doing things one at a time, say with taxes or health care, the environmental agenda or whatever," said Barnes.

Barnes is quick to add that he thinks the Obama agenda is too liberal and may be picked apart by opposition Republicans in Congress.

Conservatives are already mobilizing against the Obama budget plan, including talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh recently whipped an audience of conservative activists into a frenzy in Washington with a no-holds barred critique of President Obama.

"What is so strange about being honest and saying I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation? Why would I want that to succeed," asked Limbaugh.

Even if only portions of the Obama agenda are enacted into law by Congress, it would represent the most sweeping ideological change since conservative Ronald Reagan's emphasis on tax cuts and domestic spending cuts in the early 1980s.

Some analysts are comparing the Obama approach to the one President Franklin Roosevelt took during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"Now on some level, we accept that the federal government for the most part, not everyone does, obviously, but we accept that the federal government has a role to play in a time of economic crisis, which was much more debatable in early 1933," said Matt Dallek, political historian at the University of California's Washington Center.

But that debate appears to be resurfacing in 2009, at least among some Republican congressional leaders.

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin says enactment of the Obama budget plan would lead to the largest expansion of government since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

So far, though, many analysts believe that Mr. Obama has done an effective job of making the case for sweeping government action to try and end the recession.

"It seems to me, fair or not, that a majority of the country has decided that Obama is the last best hope to get us out of this mess, or if not the best hope, the only hope for four years," said Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News.

Two new polls seem to bolster that point. The president enjoys a 60 percent job approval rating in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, and a 59 percent approval rating in the latest national poll from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown says Mr. Obama's personal ratings suggest stronger public support for him than for his economic program.

"There is much more of a public relations job that is needed to convince the public. And at this point, he is doing it because people want to see him succeed. The fact that he is doing as well as he is among non-Democrats shows that people at this point are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," Brown said.

Political experts may differ on Mr. Obama's approach of trying to do everything at once on the economy, but there is general agreement that the new president's strategy is bold and potentially risky.

"Whether this president succeeds or fails, he's going to do it in historic proportions. It seems to me that in a sense, it is another New Deal or Great Society. You may support it. You may oppose it. But it is big," says Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

And with a big plan comes big risk. President Obama is banking on an improvement in the domestic economy before public support for him and his policies begins to ebb in the opinion polls.

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