In his second inaugural address, President Obama made every effort to tie his political philosophy to the ideals and principles of the American Founding, even as he made clear how little he understands those ideals and principles. The gist of Obama’s speech was that only government can grant freedom. Or as he put it, “[W]e have always understood…that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”
To be clear, Obama doesn’t mean this in the sense of a limited government’s importance in securing certain unalienable rights. Rather, as his speech made clear, he means it in the sense of an activist government’s importance in consolidating power effectively, redistributing wealth liberally, taxing and spending prodigiously, and heavily regulating the possession of that portion of Americans’ property that it allows to remain in their hands.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management.” In his second inaugural, Obama said very nearly the opposite.
Instead of emphasizing the importance and the nobility of individual Americans’ work, or of Americans coming together to form voluntary civil associations in their communities, Obama emphasized the need for collective action shepherded by the federal government. He said, “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.” Rather than emphasizing the possibilities of being a free man or woman in a free land, he emphasized the individual American’s powerlessness in the absence of the centralized state.
Obama added, “We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few” — thereby suggesting that, in the absence of consolidated power in Washington, prosperity is available not to the enterprising, the industrious, or the frugal, but merely to the lucky, and that the same is true for freedom itself.
Tocqueville described an overreaching centralized government as being something that “hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.” In marked contrast, Obama says that Big Government’s biggest programs “free us to take the risks that make this country great.” This naïve assertion makes one wonder what freed Americans to take such risks in the 150 years between the Founding and the New Deal.
Obama declared, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.” To glean how Obama could reconcile that statement with the national debt’s having risen about 60 percent since he took office, one merely had to wait for the next line — in which he made clear that he wasn’t talking about our crushing debt burden at all: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Moments later, Obama elaborated: “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But…[w]e cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries.” Not only is that “how we will maintain our economic vitality” — seriously? — but it’s “what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.” Apparently the Founders’ creed has meaning in our day only when we spend borrowed money on eagle-killing wind power.
Moving through the list of pet policies that he was eager to attribute to the Founders’ principles, Obama then perhaps topped himself, as he opined, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Does Obama really believe that because we are all created equal in the sense that we possess the unalienable and God-given rights with which all human beings are endowed, that all of our romantic loves are therefore equal as well? Does he really believe that Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s love was no better than Anna Karenina’s or Vronsky’s, that it matters not whether our romantic loves are selfish, shallow, abusive, degrading, incestuous, unfaithful, or polygamous — or their opposites?
If all romantic love were indeed created equal, then surely there would have been no justification for marriage’s having been defined throughout American history as the monogamous and complementary union of man and woman; for that unique union to have been regarded as the indispensable building block of civilized society; or for it to have been thought essential to the rearing and raising of children. Does Obama really believe that there’s nothing distinctive — or distinctly salutary — about the marital union as traditionally defined? Is he really saying that the principles of our Founding, rightly understood, now require us to redefine marriage because all “love we commit to one another must be equal” — both on its merits and in its effects on us and on others?
One would be hard-pressed to find a stranger or intellectually shallower attempt to tie one’s own policy position to the Declaration of Independence.
How, in general, is Obama able — in his own mind — to square his love of Big Government with the Founders’ commitment to limited government and liberty? In yet another incredible line that the Founders never would have uttered, Obama seemingly provided the answer: “Being true to our founding documents…does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way.”
Indeed, for the Founders, liberty meant freedom, and it was a gift from God. For Obama, it’s not entirely clear what liberty means, but he apparently knows “liberty” when he sees it — and he sees it as not being threatened by centralized power, but rather as emanating from it.