Obama, Rush, and Liberty
Last week, in Roanoke, Virginia, President Obama told a crowd that, ultimately, entrepreneurs aren't responsible for the success of their enterprises. "If you've got a business," the President stated, "you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
Obama has quite a few (though not enough) people talking about his most recent speech.
Although they didn't need to be told that he thinks this way, his opponents are nevertheless more than a bit shocked to hear Obama express his thoughts publicly -- and just a few months outside of the next election. Moreover, they are livid. Nationally syndicated radio talk show titan Rush Limbaugh, for instance, replied swiftly and bluntly:
"I think it can now be said, without equivocation, without equivocation, this man hates this country," for Obama "is trying to dismantle brick-by-brick the American dream."
These are harsh words, for sure. But are they true?
Before we can answer this question, we need to attend carefully to Obama's speech.
First of all, there can be no doubt that Obama's words were meticulously calibrated to justify his aggressive redistributive agenda. "There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me," he reassured his audience, "because they want to give something back" (emphasis added).
The notion of "giving back" has been a code word of choice for the left for a long, long time. If dreams of "social justice" or "economic justice" are to be realized, then it must be thought that those from whom the dreamers want to take owe those to whom they want to give.
Secondly, there is indeed a sense -- long noted by conservative theorists -- in which Obama is correct in that the figure of "the self-made man" is a fiction. No one is literally self-made. Each person is constituted in large measure by his cultural inheritance -- i.e. the traditions bequeathed to him by earlier generations.
However, this is not what Obama seems to have had in mind. Our 44th President wanted to drive home the point that, in the final analysis, it is the government -- and the federal government, at that -- to which the lion's share of credit for individual success belongs.
When Obama informs "the successful" that it is "somebody else" who "made [it] happen," he never once references parents, friends, or local clerics, much less other entrepreneurs that may have supplied the aspiring entrepreneur with inspiration. No, that "somebody else" is always the government.
Obama speaks of "a great teacher" that somewhere along the way provided motivation, yet given the immediate context in which this allusion is situated, it is clear that it is a public school teacher to whom he refers. The sentences that follow it refer unmistakably to government.
"Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridge...The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
So, we can definitively conclude that, according to Obama, government creates not just job opportunities in the public sector, but, when we get right down to it, jobs in the private sector as well.
According to this logic, entrepreneurs and, by extension, all who consider themselves successful in any non-governmental capacity are indebted to the federal government for their success.
We are now in a position to address Limbaugh's verdict that Obama is an anti-American.
America is a country founded in secession. That is to say, those who fought, died, and killed for American independence were animated first and foremost by their love for liberty. This liberty, in turn, presupposed a government of a peculiar sort, a government, comprised as it was of numerous limitations on authority and power, which was the proverbial house divided.
In short, from the perspective of those who died and killed for American independence, government must be, as we today would say, "limited." It must be limited, severely, limited, in both size and scope.
And the federal government particularly must be that much more limited, subservient in virtually all things to the states.
For Obama, in stark contrast, government is supreme, and the national government is most supreme.
But if American liberty requires an extremely limited government, and even more limited national government -- a federal government -- then it would appear that Rush is absolutely correct:
Obama does hate America. He is opposed, vehemently opposed, to both the liberty and the love of that crown jewel that forged this country in the eighteenth century and on account of which it became a beacon of hope and freedom to the world.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith and Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. Also follow him on twitter.