Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood hit back hard on Monday to charges from White House critics that President Barack Obama's economic policies -- focused on leveraging government spending to stimulate demand -- had exacerbated the recession and constituted a form of socialism.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, LaHood, one of the few Republican members of the Obama administration, scoffed at the recent talking points emanating from the congressional leaders of his own party. His voice rising at times with emotion, the transportation czar tackled first the notion that the president was a socialist in disguise.
"I don't agree with it," LaHood said. "If you go out and interview these people working on this road in Maryland... these people are thrilled. They are thrilled that they are working in March on a good paying job building roads, which is what they were trained to do. That's going to be happening all over America. So the idea that this is socialism -- it is not socialism, it is economic development. It is going to provide an economic engine around communities all over American for jobs; good paying jobs; and help people pay their bills. I don't call that socialism.... We are the model for the world when it comes to infrastructure. We are the model for the interstate system. I don't call that socialism. Our $40 billion [for the Department of Transportation]: not socialism. It is good paying jobs that is going to drive the economies in a lot of states and a lot of communities."
LaHood's comments come amidst a growing chorus of GOP critics claiming that Obama is engineering a government takeover of the nation's main economic organs. The theme has found its way into mainstream political dialogue as well. In an interview last week with the New York Times, Obama was asked bluntly whether he is a socialist. The president initially brushed the question off, then called the reporters back after the interview ended to supplement his response. "It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question," Obama told the Times' scribes. "I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn't under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks."
Perhaps more importantly, public opinion polls suggest that a large proportion of Americans are open both to additional stimulus spending as well as government intervention to revamp insolvent banks. Faced with these numbers, Republican strategists have deployed a separate strategy: portraying the president, with each passing day, as more and more responsible for the current crisis.
Asked about this line of attack, replete with phrases like the "Obama recession," Secretary LaHood offered a similarly ardent rebuke. If blame is to be cast, he declared, it can only, at this point, lie with the previous White House.
"This is not an Obama recession," he said. "He inherited all of this. He inherited a $1 trillion dollar debt. He inherited the recession. He inherited the lousy stock market. All of this was inherited. The guy has been in office a little over a month and what he has tried to do is listen to every economist he could listen to. And he put in place some opportunities to get people to work quickly through the transportation bill portion of it, to help the banks, and to help the real estate industry. And it is going to take time."