Conservatives worry that if Barack Obama is re-elected, today's trillion-plus federal deficits and ballooning national debt will continue to grow far into the future.
Conservatives worry that if Obama is re-elected, the implementation of Obamacare will lay the foundation for a single-payer federal health care system.
And conservatives worry that if the president is re-elected, the Justice Department will continue to crush state initiatives dealing with issues like immigration and voter ID; that the president's ideology-driven green energy programs will lead to billions more in wasted spending; and that Obama will undermine desperately needed entitlement reform.
All those are serious concerns. But perhaps the biggest conservative worry about a second Obama administration involves something far bigger: that after eight years of President Obama, more Americans will be dependent on government than ever before, with still more on track to become dependent in the future.
Three examples: First, on July 12, the Obama administration issued a directive that could result in the removal of the work requirement from the landmark 1996 welfare reform law. The work requirement was the heart of that reform, and removing it would mean, in the words of conservative welfare expert Robert Rector, "the end of welfare reform as we know it." It will likely also mean more people on welfare, should Barack Obama -- who has opposed welfare reform from the very beginning -- win a second term.
Second, the Obama administration has made a far-reaching effort to increase the number of Americans on food stamps. As National Review's Rich Lowry reported recently, the number of Americans on food stamps has gone from 17 million in 2000, to 30 million in 2008, to 46 million today. That increase is far more than is warranted by the economic downturn.
The Obama administration wants that number to go even higher. To cite one example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- which now spends two-thirds of its budget on food stamps and other welfare programs -- created an aggressive Spanish-language outreach program to encourage immigrants, whether legal or not, to enroll for food stamps. (Lest anyone put all the blame on Obama, it should be said that former President George W. Bush also increased the number of Americans on food stamps, one of a number of Bush initiatives that made him unpopular with conservatives.)
Finally, a key purpose of Obamacare is to increase the number of Americans covered by Medicaid, the federal health system for the poor. Obamacare expands Medicaid coverage to those with up to 133 percent of poverty-level income; for the first few years at least, all the extra cost will be paid by the federal government.
More people on welfare, food stamps, Medicaid; that has been the trend under the first Obama administration and most certainly would be the trend -- perhaps an accelerated trend -- under a second Obama term. The economic downturn undoubtedly meant that more people would receive temporary government assistance, but the effect of Obama's policies has been to expand dependence far beyond that.
A few months ago, conservatives laughed when the Obama campaign came up with "The Life of Julia: A look at how President Obama's policies help one woman over her lifetime." Obama told the story of a fictional girl who received Head Start before kindergarten; got an Obama-provided $10,000 tax credit to go to college; got a job as a Web designer; and enjoyed free contraceptives courtesy of Obamacare; got a government loan to start a small business; and ultimately headed into retirement and coverage by Social Security and Medicare.
Conservatives scoffed at the whole thing. "Julia's world ... may be the most self-revealing parody of liberalism ever conceived," wrote columnist Charles Krauthammer, noting that Julia is "swaddled and subsidized throughout her life by an all-giving government" and "the only time she's on her own is at her gravesite." But the Obama campaign is entirely serious about ensuring that Americans spend much of their lives receiving one government benefit or another.
And if the president is re-elected, Obama's expanded nanny state will be here to stay. As the administration well knows, once the government confers benefits on citizens, withdrawing those benefits can be enormously unpopular, a move few politicians will wish to risk.
So in four more years, Barack Obama could make great strides toward the goal of making more and more Americans dependent on government. Yes, issues like debt and deficits are important. But dependency could be the biggest issue of all on the ballot this November.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.