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Obama's Progressive Vision Defends 'Big Government'

Reagan told us that government "is the problem." Clinton told us the "era of big government is over." Obama is singing a different tune.

In early January, when then-President Elect Obama delivered a speech to unveil his stimulus plan, he offered a rather explicit defense of government: "It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy...."

It was the first hint of a fundamental shift. Reagan told us that government "is the problem." Clinton told us the "era of big government is over." And Obama wants America to know that government is the " only" institution that's capable of addressing an economic crisis of this severity.

The president carried this idea forward last night, delivering a national address that was, at its core, a full-throated defense of government intervention. The NYT noted that Obama "proposed a more activist government than any other since Lyndon B. Johnson."

Alex Massie had a good piece, describing the address, accurately, as an " ambitious, liberal speech."

It was a speech that would have been too bold for Clinton and too grand for Carter. Obama is the heir to LBJ American liberals have been waiting for. Anyone who feared that the present economic turmoil would be used to justify any manner of government initiatives -- in the name of Not Doing Nothing -- had those suspicions confirmed last night. The era of Big Government (by American standards) is back.

But it's back with a poise and a coolness and a demeanour that, allied with the present uncertainty, make it a much more palatable proposition than at any time since the Great Society itself.

E. J. Dionne Jr. was thinking along the same lines:

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal . His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."

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