David Brooks writes: “Instead of defending the policies of the last four years, the [Obama] campaign has begun a series of attacks on the things people don’t like about modern capitalism.” Umm, it’s actually old capitalism as well. If it were only the excesses that bothered President Obama, Brooks would be accurate.
Brooks’s indictment pegs Obama’s message as snake oil: “Democrats are promising voters that they can have all the benefits of capitalism without the downsides, like plant closures, rich C.E.O.’s and outsourcing.” But Obama’s speech last Friday suggested a much deeper animosity toward wealth creation. What Obama is touting is not a kinder, gentler conservatism but collectivism.
As Rich Lowry riffs:
For that most American figure of the self-made man, exemplified most famously by Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, President Obama wants to substitute the figure of the guy who happened to get lucky while not paying his fair share in taxes. What a dreary and pinched view of human endeavor. What a telling insight into his animating philosophy. . . .
[T]he hallmark of the man of extraordinary accomplishment isn’t simply work. Some of us may work as hard as Steve Jobs. Few of us are as single-minded, risk-taking, shrewd, or visionary. Millions of us could work twelve-hour days for years yet never come up with the idea for the iPad, let alone successfully manufacture and market it.
To redefine Steve Jobs as the product of the (necessary and unremarkable) infrastructure and government services around him is to devalue human creativity. The Obama formulation goes something like this: Steve Jobs couldn’t get to work every day without roads; he couldn’t drive safely on those roads without a well-regulated system of driver’s licenses; ergo, the San Jose, Calif., DMV practically built Apple.
This view, by the way, is straight out of the left-wing academy’s playbook (where Obama received two degrees but I suppose, according to his reasoning, didn’t “earn” anything).
The triumph of the collective over the individual requires one take a dim view of individuals. (Those folks who cling to religion and guns, I guess.) It suggests that we start the tax code from the premise that wealth is attributable to the government, which then decides how much to let you “keep.” It manifests itself in the transfer of enterprises (e.g., car companies) and responsibilities (e.g., consumer protection since consumers are incompetents) to the state. It tells one that government creates wealth by giving taxpayer dollars to Solyndra. And it forces one to ignore the inadequacies and harms that accompany aggregation of power (the job-killing impact of Obamacare, the federal debt’s affect on growth, the ineptitude in picking winners and losers, etc.)
But most of all, this view is about as far as you can get from:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
In Obama’s world view (which I’m sure he’ll soon claim was misunderstood), that consent of the governed was a carte blanche, an invitation to run roughshod over individuals (GM bond holders; those who want only catastrophic health-care coverage or no coverage; D.C. kids in the school voucher program, etc.). And those arguing for less regulation, lower taxes and limited government to generate more choices and greater prosperity are confused or selfish, maybe even criminals.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Mitt Romney both have talked about the difference between an opportunity society and a dependency society. Well, this is it. We know precisely how Obama regards the relationship between government and the individual. Now, it’s up to Romney to paint in bold colors the alternative, a limited but vigorous government in which individuals are empowered to fulfill their aspirations. It’s not modern capitalism but old Thomas Jefferson he should be defending.