Published on on October 24, 2008

The perfect storm combining the vast expansion of government's role in the American economy, a looming Obama triumph and likely huge Democratic gains in Congress augur the most serious threat of the onset of socialism the United States has faced since the New Deal. But while it became obvious that FDR's goal was to save capitalism, not to replace it, it is by no means clear that Barack Obama is similarly inclined.

As alarm bells ring incessantly, demanding government action to prevent the conflagration of our most important companies and markets, the Federal Reserve and Treasury rush to extinguish the flames with hoses filled with money. But this massive and needed public-sector intrusion into private enterprise begs the key question: After the fires are put out, will the government firefighters leave, or will they move into the companies they saved and evict their former corporate owners?

The current crisis makes it clear that the government will be invited inside the management and ownership of our top financial and corporate institutions. But it is unclear whether it will ever withdraw after the crisis has passed.

Obama's stated goal of "spreading the wealth around" may indicate an inclination to embrace European-style socialist democracy. His emphasis on promoting "fairness" in income distribution and his willingness to sacrifice economic growth by raising taxes on "the rich" all seem to point in that direction. Will Obama realize that while government is needed to prevent a crash, it is hopelessly inadequate as an engine of prosperity? Bureaucrats are neither sufficiently competent nor honest nor independent enough to make key decisions about where capital should be invested, except when it is needed to extinguish the flames of crisis.

If Obama wins and takes a solidly and overwhelmingly Democratic Congress with him -- including a filibuster-proof Senate -- we will have to entrust our system of private ownership, limited government and free enterprise to the tender mercy of the left. But the newly empowered liberals will not have to breach the walls of the private sector, justifying each new intrusion by argument and logic. Rather, they will already be inside the gates, invited there to save these institutions from their own history of greed and mismanagement. Will the left simply leave government there, effectively converting our private enterprise system, where government absorbs about a third of our GDP into a social democracy, a la Europe, where the public sector accounts for almost half of the economy?

For those who would rather not find out, it is particularly important to redouble our efforts for John McCain and to battle for each Senate seat. McCain is only seven points behind -- not an insurmountable margin. A good final week could save the free enterprise system. We owe it to our future to try.