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October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul, 5776
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Obama’s Vision: Government Itself as the American Ideal

Obama wants Americans to believe that government is only the sum total of their efforts together. But that is nonsense.

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But Obama’s argument can be reversed: We know this country cannot accomplish great things if we excessively limit the ability of individual ambition which has been the motive force of American success. The trick, of course, is that the potential for “individual ambition” must be opened to the maximum number of people. Yet taxes, regulations, and other restrictions block that from taking place.

Moreover, as is typical of Obama, his audience is offered an all or nothing approach. We can either have unbridled government or unbridled individualism. The whole point of American history is the debate over where to find the point of balance, the need for a stronger government than existed in pre-industrial America but not to have a government that was too powerful. Similarly, he continues:

Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

“Nothing more,” “all,” “tyranny,” such phrases obscure real issues of how much debt, how much regulation, how much government intervention is beneficial for the “unique experiment.” Obama dismisses this argument as a “sham,” as purely phony. So one cannot have such a debate. And that kind of stance—often echoed in the universities and mass media—kills democracy.

Leaving aside the accusation that American citizens are deliberately sabotaging the common good—those who disagree with Obama are thus defined in effect as enemies of the people—the key word is “separate.” Obama wants Americans to believe that government is only the sum total of their efforts together. But that is nonsense. Government is a separate institution with huge power and its own interests and logic.

I want to use an analogy here and to make it clear I don’t think Obama is a Communist or Marxist-Leninist. But it was the concept of Marx and Lenin that the state was merely the tool of the proletariat. Once the revolution took place, the state could be given total power because there was nothing to fear. How could the people repress or hurt the people?

Yet the state was not merely the unfailing conveyer belt of the public will. All the things predicted by America’s founders came true in the USSR: the state should be distrusted. The destruction of liberty led to inevitable abuses. The state did become a separate entity, its master not the people but the Communist Party. A privileged elite arose whose behavior was ultimately worse than if Russia had a democratic capitalist revolution. And of course the whole enterprise stagnated and collapsed.

Again, I am not saying this is the same situation as the one Obama favors. But there are important parallels. Contrary to Obama’s trickery on this point, in the “brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule,” the word “self” here doesn’t mean only rule by the state but self-rule by the individual to the maximum possible extent. That is what made America unique.

We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems, nor do we want it to. But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

This is a straw man argument. The use of the words “never” and “all” is the tip-off here. But what percentage of our problems would Obama attribute to government? Could it be that government has made the economy function worse in the last four and a half years? Might it be possible that there are problems like this in other areas? So might it be conceivable that less government, lower taxes, and less regulation would reduce some problems? Obama is fundamentally dishonest because—unlike other politicians–he cannot and will not cede that there be any merit to his critics’ arguments.

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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