"Change" is one of the weariest words in the politics of modern democracies, even if it is one of President Barack Obama's favourites. Now that he is in the White House he has to translate rhetoric into action, particularly in economic policy. The US is at present confronting a recession that is certainly the deepest since the early 1980s and may prove to be the worst since the Great Depression of 1929-33.
But Obama's response is no change from the past. Cynics have remarked on the similarity of the approach to that of his Republican predecessor. Obama has proposed in early 2009 a $900 billion fiscal package to stimulate the American economy, just as George W. Bush proposed in early 2001 a $1,300bn fiscal package to stimulate the US economy. Although Bush was in theory opposed to higher government spending and Obama frankly wants more of it, in practice Bush was a spendthrift and federal outlays soared during his presidency.
At any rate, the Obama package-which Congress passed without proper scrutiny - will expand an already large budget deficit. The Congressional Budget Office was expecting the federal deficit to exceed $1,000bn in 2009 even before Obama's changes took effect. Now it is likely that the deficit will be the largest, as a share of national income, since the Second World War.
If "change" is one item in a stale political vocabulary, "new" and "radical" are others, particularly when attached to such clichés as "idea", "doctrine" and "principle". In this case, however, Obama's team are able only to claim that their intellectual mentor is "newly relevant". They have sought a rationale for the dramatic increase in the budget deficit in old and familiar concepts associated with the British economist John Maynard Keynes. According to the hagiographies, in the 1930s Keynes advised Roosevelt to expand government spending and run a large budget deficit as a means of boosting demand and employment. Obama - it is claimed - is now following in Roosevelt's footsteps.