Ed Driscoll

From Hopenchange to 'He Didn't Say That'

Jonah Goldberg notes the Mobius loop of postmodern obfuscation that Obama’s most fervent supporters have been forced to ride this week:

The president’s defenders have claimed he either misspoke last week at a Roanoke, Va., campaign event or that what he said is true. Both defenses have merit. Obama surely didn’t mean to say something that politically idiotic so plainly. And it’s true that no man’s accomplishments are entirely his own. We’re all indebted to others, and we all rely on government to provide some basic things. Only the straw-men conservatives of Obama’s imagination yearn for an America with no roads and bridges.

At best, Obama’s “gaffe” is a banal truism, and if the president’s praetorians want to defend him on grounds of platitudinous banality, fine. But even they have to know in their hearts that this is a pathetic maneuver, given that the reason they’re rushing to defend Obama in the first place is his commitment to the very philosophy they deny he’s espousing.

This is the great irony of Obama and his defenders. He is a progressive ideologue and a passionate believer in “social justice,” and that’s a large reason why his fans love him so. But if you ever say that he is what he is — if you take his words seriously — they ridicule you for believing he’s anything other than a pragmatist and a moderate.

Meanwhile, what many conservatives don’t appreciate is that Obama is not some otherworldly radical, importing foreign ideas, but that he in fact fits within an old American intellectual tradition. Indeed, you might even call him a reactionary progressive; he seeks to restore the assumptions and priorities of the Progressive Era.

But not the actual physical manifestations of that era such as roads, bridges, dams and electric utilities, as Mark Steyn adds in his weekly column:

Instead of roads and bridges, Obama-sized government funds stasis and sclerosis: The Hoover Dam of regulatory obstruction, the Golden Gateway to dependency. Last month, 80,000 Americans signed on to new jobs, but 85,000 Americans signed on for Social Security disability checks. Most of these people are not “disabled” as that term is generally understood. Rather, it’s the U.S. economy that’s disabled, and thus Obama incentivizes dependency. What Big Government is doing to those 85,000 “disabled” is profoundly wicked. Let me quote a guy called Mark Steyn, from his last book:

“The evil of such a system is not the waste of money but the waste of people. Tony Blair’s ministry discovered it was politically helpful to reclassify a chunk of the unemployed as ‘disabled.’ A fit, able-bodied 40-year-old who has been on disability allowance for a decade understands somewhere at the back of his mind that he is living a lie, and that not just the government but his family and his friends are colluding in that lie.”

Millions of Americans have looked at the road ahead, and figured it goes nowhere. Best to pull off into the Social Security parking lot. Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. As the president would say, you didn’t build the express check-in to the Disability Office. Government built it, and, because they built it, you came. In Obama’s “visions,” he builds roads and bridges. In reality, the President of Dependistan has put nothing but roadblocks in the path to opportunity and growth.

That he can build. That’s all he can build.

Related: John Stossel tries to open a simple lemonade stand, discovers he’s actually gone into the business of filling out mountains of government-required paperwork. Meanwhile, California entrepreneur Tom Smith asks a key question:

[H]ow many more successful businesses, inventions, products, services, toys, tools, insights, and just plain fun would there be, if government did not in the first place make it so ridiculously difficult to start a business and keep it going? I don’t see our young president taking credit on behalf of the state for all the failures it help cause, all the ideas that never got off the ground because the regulatory hurdles were so high, or all the established companies that never had to face competition because they had managed to get their rents written into law. This is part of the seen and not seen insight of Bastiat. What you see is a successful business when it manages to survive, and then people run up, the same people who taxed and regulated it nearly to death, and say I helped! I helped! What you don’t see are all the businesses that perished or never got started because of the heavy hand of the state. And it’s a very heavy hand.

And it’s being deliberately applied around the necks of entrepreneurs. This is “The Most Business-Despising President in History,” Mona Charen writes. “The president doesn’t know the private sector, and he doesn’t like it:”

Mr. Obama would like to see all of the unemployed get government jobs. That’s not an insult; it’s the truth. Repeatedly, the president and Mrs. Obama have counseled young people to reject the “formulas for success” that our culture “peddles” and to disdain the “brass ring” and the “corner office.” Speaking to graduates at Arizona State in 2009, Mr. Obama disdained this course, declaring that for “far too long” we’ve been told that “through material possessions — through a ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf — that’s how you will measure success. . . . It displays a poverty of ambition.”

That caricature of capitalism — “ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf” — is truly what Obama believes. It’s the sort of juvenile critique that anyone who has taken Economics 101 or read a word of Adam Smith has moved beyond. Even most liberal Democrats understand that the private sector provides the money that government then redistributes. But Obama doesn’t seem ever to consider where the money comes from. He just fervently believes that everything noble, selfless, and worthy trickles down to ordinary people from the beneficent hand of government. Striving to build and create on your own is “ruthless.”

In 1993, former senator George McGovern, once considered the most liberal of Democratic candidates for president, wrote a piece about his experience attempting to run a small bed-and-breakfast in Connecticut. The red tape required by government severely hampered his capacity to earn a profit. He wished in retrospect that “I had known more firsthand about the concerns and problems of American businesspeople while I was a U.S. senator and later a presidential nominee. That knowledge would have made me a better legislator and a more worthy aspirant to the White House.”

It took Obama to make George McGovern look like a conservative.

Returning to the subject of Obama’s defenders, Jim Treacher quips, “Obama ’08: Yes We Can! Obama ’12: No You Didn’t.” And the president himself wants to ensure that if you’re a businessman, no you can’t.

Update: Angry video reaction of prominent socialist leader after being told by the president that he has not actually built large socialist mass movement.