A key point to remember in discussing the controversy over Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that remarks” – the context for his speech, and the policy context for the whole campaign, is the extremism in the Republican budget proposals written by Paul Ryan and endorsed by Mitt Romney.
We’ve actually been getting a pretty interesting discussion of the philosophic or substantive debate about Obama’s comments. I’d recommend Julian Sanchez from the libertarian side; Adam Gopnik with the liberal Adam Smith argument; Dylan Mathews on the philosophy of “deserving” ; Philip Klein making the conservative case against what Obama said; and the Economist’s R.A. with a strong liberal case for.
What I would add is that a lot of this abstract debate is missing the most important context: the House Republican Budget.
Sanchez says, for example:
Of course, there are solid arguments why certain things we build together—roads, for one—will generally not be adequately supplied unless we do them through government…Does Obama think he has to make the argument against anarcho-capitalism?
He asks that as if it’s a rhetorical question, but the clear answer is: yes, he does. Remember, the Ryan plan’s long-term vision isn’t to trim here and there; it is to slash all spending outside of medical programs and Social Security to a bit less than what Romney (and Ryan) want to spend on the military. If you believe the numbers that the Republicans themselves are using, then by 2050 basically the entire federal government (with those exceptions – the health programs, Social Security, the military) are gone.
So when a conservative or libertarian claims that what Barack Obama said is either some sort of socialist extremism or just a banal statement that of course some basic level of government is a good idea, the thing to remember is that he’s running for president against a party which claims — at least in their officially endorsed budget — to be against what almost everyone thinks of as normal, banal levels of government.
Granted, I don’t actually believe that most Republicans want what they say they want in the budget they have supported. (I think what they actually support is slashing only selected programs, but mostly just running extremely large budget deficits.) You really can’t, however, blame Barack Obama and the Democrats for exploiting what Republicans claim (in their budget math) to support. And it’s pretty extreme stuff.