During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama gave what came to be called his Reverend Wright speech. I analyzed that speech in a three part essay, which I titled Obama’s Collectivist Manifesto (see links below).
An article for FEE—the Foundation for Economic Education—focussed on President Obama’s speech to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. In President Obama: “We Don't Look to Be Ruled”, Jeffrey A. Tucker misreads, I think, Obama’s message.
Tucker cites a passage from Obama’s speech that he refers to as “these awesome and inspiring words” that carries a “liberty-oriented theme.” Here are a few key excerpts from the passage cited by Tucker:
We don't look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago; We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that together, We, the People, can form a more perfect union.
It's always been about what can be achieved by us, together.”
We don't fear the future; we shape it, embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own.
Immediately after Obama’s words, Tucker writes:
Exactly: we don’t look to be ruled. Our value as a people comes not from the top down but from within — from character, resilience, decency, all of which emanate from freedom itself.
It’s clear that Tucker reads into Obama’s rhetoric an affirmation of the individual freedom that lies at the heart of America’s Founding. Tucker goes on to observe that Obama’s actual record contradicts the “liberty-oriented theme” of his convention speech. But, does it? Is Obama really espousing a “liberty-oriented theme?” Or is he sneaking in a statist theme?
Obama knows how to use words to advance statism under cover of seemingly pro-freedom language. What I see in Obama’s words is not an affirmation of freedom. I see a cherry picking of phrases from our Founding documents in order to distort American individualism into American collectivism—a reincarnation of Obama’s promise to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.”*
What happened to “unalienable individual rights” to the pursuit of our own happiness? What happened to a government whose sole purpose is “to secure these rights?” What happened to the rest of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? When Obama speaks of “We, the People,” he envisions not a collection of sovereign individuals, but of a society of subjects subordinate to the collective, with the state as representative of the collective good.
America has never essentially “been about what can be achieved by us, together,” but about individuals free to act on their own judgement in pursuit of personal achievement. When Obama speaks of “together,” he does not mean individuals voluntarily cooperating—or not—based on individual self-interest. He means everyone corralled together into programs directed by the government regardless of anyone’s individual choices. A lot can be gained by people working together. But that cooperation must be voluntary and mutually respectful of each other's’ rights and self-interest. People herded together by force into government programs ruled by central planners is not “working together”: It is a chain gang.
When the colonies rebelled against Britain, they sought to throw off foreign rule for the sake of establishing a government that protects rather than violates individual rights. That is not Obama’s meaning. When Obama speaks of Americans not willing to be ruled, he does not mean the individual not being ruled by omnipotent government officials. He means the nation not being ruled by a foreign power. He means that vision of all statists—national, not individual, self-determination. When he speaks of freedom, he does not mean individual rights as understood by our Founders—the right to act on our own individual judgement without coercive interference from government. He means the “freedom” to choose our own dictator by way of the ballot box: Obama essentially recognizes only one right—the right to vote.
The right to vote is important. But there is a stark difference between the Progressives’ concept of the vote and the vote in a free society. In a free society—that is, in the original American concept of republican government—the voting majority's will as expressed by the government officials it elects (and their appointees) is limited by iron-clad constitutional protection of individual rights. For Progressives (or “liberals” or Leftists), the voting majority’s will is not limited in such a way. In a free society, individual rights trump the vote. To a Progressive, the vote supersedes individual rights. In a constitutional republic, the ballot box is an instrument of liberation, reinforcing and extending individuals’ rights to control their own destiny. In a Democracy, the ballot box is an instrument of oppression by the majority over the minority, the smallest of which is the individual: It is an instrument of aggression for the purpose of extending control over and subjugation of the individual to the state. So-called “liberals” or progressives are democracy fundamentalists who worship at the altar of unfettered majority rule—majority rule unconstrained by constitutional protections for individual rights. In their radical democracist vision, the right to vote is not just a fundamental right, which it is not, but is the only fundamental right. All other rights, to the Democracy Fundamentalists, are permissions granted at the pleasure of the state on behalf of the voting majority.
Tucker speaks of ObamaCare and Common Core as programs that contradict Obama’s “liberty-oriented theme.” But Obama’s programs don’t contradict Obama’s theme, because his theme is not liberty-oriented. Just the opposite. ObamaCare and Common Core are perfectly consistent with Obama’s distorted and revisionist view of America. When Obama uses phrases like “shape our own destiny,” he does not mean it in the classical American sense of individuals shaping their own destiny. When he speaks of the “enduring work of self-government,” he doesn’t mean the people’s right to choose the lawmakers who will best exercise the government’s limited powers related to protecting individual rights. When he speaks of “what can be achieved by us, together,” he speaks of the chain gang of ever-greater, rights-restricting government programs imposed by the government we elect—and justified by the simple fact that the government was elected. He sees government as “limited” only by what the electoral majority will permit.
Read again Obama’s passage. It’s all about “we,” “us,” “together,” “one people.” Not once in his “liberty-oriented theme” does Obama mention the word “individual.” Since individualism and all that the term implies (individual rights, rational egoism, capitalism, free markets, limited rights-protecting government) is the very unique reason for America’s being, Obama’s omission of the word tells you all you need to know about Obama’s real theme—which is a theme that is the direct antipode of Americanism.
This is not to say that unity in and of itself is un-American. Far from it. The question is not united America versus un-united America. The question is, what unites Americans? What used to unite Americans is a commitment to the principles of individual self-determination based on upholding and respecting inalienable individual rights, so that we can each be “on our own” if we choose—not “on our own” in the sense of a lone wolf or the Tom Hanks survival movie Cast Away that depicts a single man stranded on an uninhabited island, but in the sense of deciding for ourselves when and with whom we will cooperate within the context of making our own goal-directing choices and governing our own affairs. Indeed, progress can only come from people free to blaze their own independent, often revolutionary new paths.
Barack Obama and the modern Democrats do not value freedom. They do not value individualism. They do not value America’s Founding principles. They are collectivists and statists who seek our votes for the purpose of restricting our freedom further. Why? They are power-lusters. They seek to rule “us”; We the People.
Obama's Collectivist "Togetherness" vs. Genuine Individualist Togetherness
Which is better — globalism or nationalism? That’s one of the major themes of this election year campaign.
The answer: neither one.The only answer is individualism.
*(Obama later seemed to backtrack on his promise to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” in an interview with Bill O’Reilly. But he only seemed to. His rhetoric actually confirmed his original statement: “I think that what we have to do is make sure that here in America, if you work hard, you can get ahead.” America has never been about government-guaranteed success. It’s been about your freedom to direct your own life, and keep whatever rewards you earn from your work. A government that can guarantee your economic success is a government that controls your economic fate. Of course, no government can guarantee success. If it could, history would be one long economic boom, rather than stagnation up until the birth of free market capitalism. But that Obama wants to try to create such a government would be a fundamental transformation.)