Obama's Warmed-Over Collectivism


Much of President Barack Obama's mercifully brief second inaugural address yesterday was familiar to anyone who has been listening to his rhetoric and policy ideas since 2007.

Once again, the president rejected the false choice between "caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future," a formulation that simultaneously waves aside the relentless growth of entitlement spending (from 37 percent of federal outlays today to a projected 50 percent by 2030) and valorizes Washington's other frequently wasteful expenditures as transactions from which we can expect net financial returns.

Once again, he has made the factually dubious claim that future "economic vitality" depends not only on "sustainable energy sources" that will "power new jobs and new industries," but on making damned sure that America leads the world in this sector. "That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared," he added, oddly.

And once again, Obama has asserted the centrality and indispensability of the federal government to just about everything worth caring about. Here is the passage that best encapsulates the president's post-Bill Clinton ideology, including the feinting, to-be-sure stuff in paragraph four. I have italicized the action words:

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. 

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.  For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.  No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people. […]

My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together

This is a man who literally cannot envision a world in which a Golden Gate Bridge gets built without central planning from Washington, or where the 21st century doesn't rely on a transport technology invented in the 19th. The true fact that "no single person" can train all the teachers and build all the networks is no more a clarion call to collective action than the fact that no single person can make a pencil from scratch. We have an app for that, you know. Maybe the next president will figure that one out.