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From Exceptionalism to Statism


We heard from a president with a moral compass every bit as sophisticated and powerful as Bill Bennett’s, and who possesses a remarkably subtle understanding of the American psyche, but who knows only one way to fit all that wisdom into his current job description–use it to justify seemingly endless calls for more and more government.


First, the good stuff.


At the outset, Obama reminded us that our virtues will be our salvation: 

The answers to our problems…exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Later, Obama read from an uplifting letter he received from a young school girl from South Carolina.  “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president,” she wrote. “We are not quitters.”

“These words,” Obama explained, “tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.”  

So far, so good.

But after capturing so beautifully the essence of American exceptionalism, Obama somehow transformed it into his call for more government. Uncle Sam, not Americans as individuals, must jump in and assume responsibility to make things right. That little girl’s concerns must be “our cause,” he said to resounding cheers from the packed House chamber. The collective “our,” of course, is the royal “our” of Big Government.


This pattern was on display throughout his discussion of domestic policy issues. Loftily appeal to our sense that we are an exceptional nation. Stroke the competitive spirit that pushes us to want to be the best in the world. Paint a picture of an America being left in the dust by wily foreigners in China, Japan, Korea and Germany. And then tell us the only way out of our pickle is to hand over more and more of our freedoms to Washington.  


Here are some examples:

·        Energy. “We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

“Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders….It is time for America to lead again.”

·        The auto industry. “As for our auto industry, I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.”

·        Health care. “In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages…. It is one of the major reasons why…corporations ship jobs overseas.”

·        Education. “We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

In every instance, new government programs are the answer. And therein is the fundamental challenge Obama faces. The American exceptionalism he invoked generates precisely those character traits–personal responsibility, hard work, sacrifice, entrepreneurial creativity, resiliency, decency, and fairness–that will enable ordinary Americans to resist and, ultimately, defeat the suffocating Big Government that Obama seeks to impose on us.

But if our friends on the Left ever succeed in suffocating that exceptionalism and extinguishing those character traits, they will ultimately prevail.


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