Yet how can one ignore the fact that government is a huge institution with its own interests, privileges, and special interest clients? By the way, this is a novel argument in American politics. If Republican-ruled governments were said to be untrustworthy because they favored big business, Democratic-ruled governments were said to be untrustworthy because they favored trade unions or other constituencies. Distrust of government has always been bipartisan.
Finally, there is one more subtle touch, Obama’s restatement of President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That is on an individual basis and Kennedy was invoking patriotism. Obama reduces this to the idea that America equals government. To put it another way, Kennedy’s statement was understood to mean that any action–say, citizens’ organizing a charity or educational program to help the poor–helping the country was a good thing; Obama’s that collective action meant helping and strengthening the government.
After giving lip service to saying that Americans should not just ask what “can be done for us,” he then turns to what “can be done by us, together,” which is the “absolutely necessary work of self-government.”
No one doubts that self-government is “absolutely necessary,” the problem is that it is becoming—in Obama’s interpretation—as the sum total of America, the sole center of power. The huge space that the Founders set out for balances has been confined. To Obama, individual liberty is merely “negative liberty.”
In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge said, “The chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with buying, selling, investing, and prospering in the world.” Today, Obama has sought to alter that into arguing that the chief business of the American people is government, but that arguably has reached the point that it prevents them from prospering in the world.
Originally published at Rubin Reports.