In the Arena

The Wages of Liberalism

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The excellent Dsvid Leonhardt has an important column today in the Times about the Obama Administration’s failure to name a Medicare director. I can cite many other such vacancies throughout the Administration, mostly attributable to the perverse scrupulousness of the confirmation process…which, in turn, is mostly attributable to my colleagues in the media–and the assorted howlers of both sides of the spectrum–elevating things like paying your nanny taxes into major threats to the public.

But the larger point is crucial: If you believe, as Ronald Reagan said, that government is “part of the problem,” then you don’t pay much attention to governing and eventually wind up with the head of the Arabian Horse Association running FEMA during Hurricane Katrina. If you believe, as Democrats do, that government is essential to regulating the market, so as to prevent meltdowns like the current recession, and to providing security for the public, then you have to be stone serious about managing the public sphere in the most efficacious way. And it’s nearly impossible to pull off the sort of reform that Obama is proposing in health care without a government that is streamlined and smart.

I don’t think the Obama Administration has been paying enough attention to the “m” in OMB–the Office of Management and Budget. It’s not a dramatic issue, not something that groups like MoveOn send out emails organizing around. But it is the predicate for a liberalism that has public credibility.