03 July 2009

The Reluctant Dictator

Barack Obama is not trying to lead a government takeover of one American industry after another.  We know this because he told us so himself:

And so it’s puzzling to me sometimes to hear the standard conservative critique of what we’re doing, when essentially every step we’re taking really involves the mess that we found when we arrived here at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Let’s take autos as an example.  Other than basic issues like consumer safety - seatbelts, airbags, which save a lot of lives - and consumer protections - lemon laws and making sure that people know what they’re buying - the only real regulatory approach that I’ve been interested in is raising fuel efficiency standards so that we can wean ourselves off dependence on foreign oil.  Beyond that, the last thing that I want is to be running a car company, or to be having to make decisions about what the auto market of the future is going to look like.[Note 1, emphasis mine.]


These are the words of the politician who fired the head of America’s largest car maker (a private company!), strong-armed two of the Big Three car companies into “restructuring” as his administration saw fit, trampled bankruptcy law to force rightful creditors to take pennies on the dollar, and seized future control of GM by ensuring that the federal government holds a majority share of the company when it emerges from bankruptcy.

Such actions would not be surprising from a Hugo Chavez or a Robert Mugabe.  They would be outrageous, of course, and deserving of the harshest censure from the civilized world, but we have come to expect this from tin pot dictators.  For this to happen in America is a shameful nightmare.

There exist only two possible conclusions regarding the president’s statement.  If running a car company and manipulating the auto market is truly “the last thing he wants,” then Mr. Obama is either stunningly incompetent (because he has achieved exactly what he claims he doesn’t want) or he is utterly disingenuous.

Of course, considering what we know about the career bureaucrat, the latter is obviously true.  The Obama administration, propelled by the momentum of the Bush administration, has with remarkable rapidity and consistency intruded into virtually every aspect of private life.  For this president to say that he “actually would like to see a relatively light touch when it comes to the government” is plainly false.  It is a jaw-droppingly brazen lie, contradicting everything the man has ever done or believed in.  

But the true marvel of his performance is that he can get away with it - and he knows it.  This is the tragic indictment of American culture today.  Apparently, all one has to do to be a dictator is to feign reluctance.

This erosion of the American republic cannot be blamed on Barack Obama.  It cannot be blamed on Capitol Hill.  These men and women were ushered into office by Americans; they are applauded by Americans.  It is true that almost half of the people who showed up at the polls in 2008 voted for John McCain, but even if John McCain had won the election, he would be decimating liberty more or less at the same rate as Barack Obama.  Mr. Obama complains about the “standard conservative critique” of his administration, but conservatives do not present any principled opposition to him, and in fact, play directly into his hands.  After all, it was the Bush administration that handed Mr. Obama the lever - the initial bailout money - with which he compels auto makers and financial institutions to do his bidding.  Though few from either side may like to admit it, the Obama administration’s sacrificial agenda of “lending a helping hand” to the unfortunate perfectly satisfies the aims of “compassionate conservatism.”

Neither Republicans nor Democrats, neither “liberals” nor conservatives, properly defend American values.  The parties bicker about the details of which sacrifices Americans should make, but a principled defense of individual rights is almost non-existent.  Politicians of every stripe fail to recognize that the purpose of the Constitution is protect every citizen from them, the politicians.  Republicans and Democrats treat the law as an instrument to push people around, and they do so without a second thought or apology.

The challenge for us, as defenders of liberty, is to bring Americans back to the principled path.  This is not easy, for as Edward Cline pointed out in an excellent post, “Generations of dumbing-down and educational indoctrination can’t be undone during a single repressive administration.”[Note 2.]  This is not to say that Americans are “dumb” - far from it, for young Americans are still the bright hope of the future.  However, being intelligent and being able to think are two different things, and each successive generation of American minds emerges from an educational system that increasingly hobbles its students.  It is the rare person that can learn to think properly given a modern education that discourages independence and eschews principles in favor of disparate, agenda-driven facts and factoids.  Nevertheless, it is precisely a principled argument that we must make if the republic is to be saved, for America is above all a nation based on a principle: the principle of individual rights


1.  Transcript of Obama Interview with the Journal, Wall Street Journal, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2009/06/16/transcript-of-obamas-interview-with-the-journal/.

2.  Edward Cline, “The New Sons of Liberty,” http://ruleofreason.blogspot.com/2009/06/new-sons-of-liberty.htm.

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