Originally published at Rubin Reports.
In his speech at Ohio State University, President Barack Obama used the word “together” four times.
Yet each time he defined the collective endeavor of Americans as merely that of promoting more government. Thus, while trying to turn American history and even the Constitution into precedents for his goals and policies, Obama reverses reality, undermining not only the conservative vision of America but also the historic liberal one.
Normally, a president would speak of the vast array of efforts made “together” to refer—or at least include—non-government activities. That means the actions of voluntarily formed communities, organizations, corporations, charities, religious groups, and trade unions. It is the freedom, energy, and enthusiasm to form such groups that marks American society as unusual in the world.
All those things are actions independent of the government. It was the virtue of American government that it accepted limitations to permit the maximum space for the autonomous action of citizens and groups of citizens. After all, democracy is not defined as the ability to come together to serve the state. On one level, all countries require some such service. But on another level this is the philosophy of the modern ideological dictatorship.
Let’s consider Obama’s four uses of the word “together” to gain better understanding of his ideology:
That’s precisely what the founders left us: the power to adapt to changing times. They left us the keys to a system of self-government – the tool to do big and important things together that we could not possibly do alone. To stretch railroads and electricity and a highway system across a sprawling continent. To educate our people with a system of public schools and land grant colleges, including Ohio State. To care for the sick and the vulnerable, and provide a basic level of protection from falling into abject poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. To conquer fascism and disease; to visit the Moon and Mars; to gradually secure our God-given rights for all our citizens, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or who they love.
Here, Obama cleverly cites cases of consensus government action—the public school system, fighting wars, and the space program–in a misleading way. Two side remarks: First, it is significant that Obama doesn’t say, “To conquer fascism and Communism.” Second, whatever one thinks on the issue, Obama’s claim that gay marriage is a “God-given right” is certainly a theological novelty.
But back to the main point. In other words, because minimal or moderate government has achieved great things, Obama illogically argues that maximum government can achieve even greater things despite the contrary evidence of history, including present-day American history. Today, government doesn’t “stretch” railroads; it blocks oil pipelines; it doesn’t promote agriculture, it refuses to give water to California farmers because of a small fish; it cripples coal mining and pumping petroleum.
It is quite true that land was granted by the government in the mid-nineteenth century to make it possible to build railroads and colleges. But once the land was given, the government stepped entirely out of the picture! Giving one item and then getting out of the way—I’m talking here about creation not regulation—is quite different from the government doing these things itself.
In fact, Obama is here stealing credit from private enterprise and turning American history on its head. The same point applies to “conquer…disease” where Obamacare marks a highly questionable extension of government power to hitherto unimaginable heights.
He continues about providing “a basic level of protection,” which is often called the safety net. But the whole point, of course, is that this idea emerged relatively late in American history and was finally enshrined in the New Deal of the 1930s and afterward.
A “basic level of protection,” however, has grown to extraordinary size, far beyond what was envisioned even in the 1960s, to the point that it threatens the sustainability of the economy and of freedoms. We are not talking any more about “abject poverty,” which the American system has made rare. The safety net has been expanded to the point–as in lavish retirement spending on public employees and “poverty” programs that mainly benefit well-paid bureaucrats– that it may be strangling the country. Obama continues:
We, the people, chose to do these things together. Because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.
This is a fascinating piece of propaganda. He begins by citing the Declaration of Independence—coupling himself with the Founders (because he knows this is his opponents’ main argument) and ending with a refutation of capitalism. He counters “we the people,” (the 99 percent, Democrats, those for strengthening the state) against greedy “individual ambition” (the Republicans, capitalists, those who want to keep individual freedom).The founding argument of capitalism, originally made by Adam Smith was that individual ambition could be harnessed for maximum economic progress. Few students in America today are taught to understand how this apparent contradiction has produced the world’s most democratic, prosperous, and stable societies. By Obama’s definition, however, a government bureaucrat cannot be greedy or oppressive.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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