Capping perhaps the greatest political upset in American history, Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th president on January 20th. (Actually our 43rd, because Grover Cleveland is counted twice since his two terms were not consecutive.) Obama must be given credit for an incredible achievement.
That is where my admiration for our new president ends.
In a rousing inauguration speech, cheered wildly by a huge crowd, President Barack Obama laid out an aggressive agenda for expanded federal control of the economy, massive redistribution of income and wealth, and widespread violations of individual rights. This is no surprise.
What is disconcerting (though also not a surprise) is that, at the same time, he made a pre-emptive strike against the forces of capitalism and free markets, seeking to shut down debate and discourse through the classic tactic of the Argument From Intimidation. This tactic entails, to put it simply, the use of derogatory, insulting terms as a method of discrediting an opposing valid argument or viewpoint without any discussion. That the President of the United States would stoop to this level is certainly not, shall we say, very "presidential".
After recounting the challenges and problems America faces, the President goes on to tell us that his agenda is not open to intellectual, philosophical, or moral challenge;
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics…the time has come to set aside childish things."
This, after having implored us, just moments before, to;
"remain…faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents…"
Where in our founding documents does government get authorization to do the following?
"For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.
"Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."
It is Obama whose memory is short. The tremendous productive energy that built this country was unleashed by the individual efforts of “free men and women” liberated to selfishly pursue their own happiness according to their own judgement, productive work, and voluntary trade under capitalism. The “courage” to force the people to put aside their self-interest, their “childish things”, in order to conform to a “common purpose” dictated by the state is called collectivism, and is as alien to our founding ideals as one can imagine. Collectivism is incompatible with “free men and women”. But we are not to question or object;
"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."
The question we should ask today is; what is the proper role of government?
The fundamental conflict America has faced for decades, and which is now breaking out into the open from behind the old Liberal-Conservative divide, is collectivism vs. individualism, or socialism vs. capitalism, or statism vs. freedom. But, he says, these “stale political arguments…no longer apply”. President Obama has declared, in his first hours of his first term, that statism has won. It is not government’s responsibility to protect the unalienable individual rights of its citizens to chart the course of their own lives free from forcible interference by others…the "ideals of our forebears...[and] our founding documents" which Obama implores us to remain true to, but which he has apparently forgotten (or is more likely ignoring). Rather, his government will determine which science to advance, which technology to employ, and what energy investments to make. He promises to relieve us of the burden (the freedom) of making our own decisions on education, healthcare, retirement, jobs, and childcare. Only a “cynic” would voice any objection to that agenda by, say, upholding individual rights.
This breathtaking agenda, which builds on the illegitimate powers already possessed by our government, must move forward without reference to crucial questions on the proper role of government, individual rights, the basic laws of economics, the dismal (and dangerous) historical record of government central planning, or the true source of wealth creation…the free, individual human mind.
Reminiscent of the theme of “divisiveness” with which he addressed the Reverend Wright controversy, these questions are deemed by him to be irrelevant and “childish”, representing “worn out dogmas” and “petty grievances”, that fuel “conflict and discord” that threaten our “unity of purpose”. Our new president will not tolerate “the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long” to continue to “strangle…our politics”.
To be sure, President Obama pays half-hearted lip service to “the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things”, and to the market’s “power to generate wealth and expand freedom”. But even here, he warns that private economic decisions will only be tolerated as a privilege, not as an unalienable right, as the government’s (big brother’s?) “watchful eye” determines. And notice the glaring omission of the adjective “free” from his reference to “the market”.
His strongest defense of our founding ideals is in his re-affirmation of the American doctrine of church-state separation, when he said;
"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers."
In view of his embrace of President Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives, that statement rings with a dangerous hollowness, though.
Despite frequent generalities that seem to imply the right ideas, this speech is perfectly consistent with Barack Obama’s implicit philosophical bent. It is a call for an expanded statism in America, coupled with an attempt to shackle the intellectual opposition. To reverse-paraphrase President Ronald Reagan a generation ago, Obama is here declaring that “In this present crisis, freedom is not the solution to our problem; freedom is the problem."
As I have said repeatedly over the past year or so, Barack Obama understands the power of ideas much more astutely than most politicians do. Over the past 100 years, socialism has been thoroughly and completely demonstrated, both in practice and in theory, to be an abject, brutal failure. That is why Obama and the Democrats run from the socialist label like the plague, despite the obvious fact that they are socialists. Thus, Obama will evade that inconvenient truth by taking the pragmatic road…by disregarding ideas altogether. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works…” He will reject ideas, ideology, logical consequences, historical lessons, and principles, as all pragmatic adherents of indefensible policies must.
President Obama has set the tone and strategy for pushing ahead with his statist agenda and silencing the opposition. As we shall see, his minions are listening and ready and eager to follow his lead. The good news is, the Left is intellectually bankrupt, and they know it. A movement confidant of its cause does not shy away from ideological debate, but rather embraces it. The fact is, the statist agenda of the Left cannot withstand the force of intellectual scrutiny, or the full and open knowledge by the people of the actual meaning of capitalism and free markets. The Obama strategy is to prevent the American people from ever discovering the nature of the free market alternative to government control. That is why the Left will attempt to smother debate.
It won’t work, at least not for long. But it may work long enough, and that is the danger. The GOP does not have much time to wake up. Here, the signs are not good, as witness this Republican "alternative" to the Democrats’ SCHIP bill currently being debated. The Republicans must purge the party of its own socialists.
All and all, Barack Obama gave a great inaugural speech. He told us plenty. He told us that the “change” he campaigned on is nothing more than an anti-intellectual embrace of the failed collectivist ideas of the 20th century. He told us that his administration is devoid of an ideological foundation. He told us that statism and socialism, fascist style, is advancing in a political and philosophical vacuum. He has told us that debate on fundamental ideas will not be tolerated, because he knows the importance of fundamental ideas and that he cannot win on that battleground.
He has told us that the road is cleared for the intellectual vanguard of a radical new alternative that is waiting to be discovered…a system that is always falsely blamed for problems caused by political forces…the unknown ideal, capitalism.