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Going Dutch



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My weekend column discusses Obama’s Bartlett’s-worthy instant classic, “You didn’t build that!” Everyone else has had his two bits, of course, but I was struck by Charles Murray’s contribution:

There’s a standard way for Americans to celebrate accomplishment. First, we call an individual onto the stage and say what great things that person has done. Then that person gives a thank-you speech that begins “I couldn’t have done this without…” and a list of people who helped along the way. That’s the way we’ve always done it. Everyone knows we all get help in life (and sometimes just get lucky). But we have always started with the individual and then worked out. It is not part of the American mindset to begin with the collective and admonish individuals for thinking too highly of their contribution.

That brings me back to the creepiness of it all. It is as if a Dutch politician—an intelligent, well-meaning Dutch politician—were somehow running for the American presidency, but bringing with him the Rawlsian, social-democratic ethos that, in the Netherlands, is the natural way to talk about a properly run society. We would listen to him and say to ourselves, “He doesn’t get this country.” That’s the thing about Obama. Time and again, he does things and says things that are un-American. Not evil. Not anti-American. Just un-American.

I know what Charles means about the Dutch bloke, but let’s not forget that the Dutch were the first truly capitalist society on earth, the Dutch East India Company was the first real multinational corporation, the Amsterdam exchange was the first modern stock market, etc. In other words, if a 21st-century Dutch social democrat was running for office in the heyday of the Netherlands, the Dutch would think, “He doesn’t get this country.” That’s a point I’ve tried to make over and over these last four years: Big Government can transform a people. It’s done so in Britain, Europe and most of the rest of the developed world.

Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Van Jones and the rest of the gang have made a bet they can pull off the same trick here. In his Roanoke speech, listen to the audience cheer his disdain for individual effort. Consider the mainstream media’s mystification that anyone would find these words controversial. Look at the statistics: In the last three years, 2.6 million Americans have signed on with new employers, but 3.1 million have signed on for disability checks.

Charles is right: Obama’s remarks would have rung exceedingly foreign for most of America’s history. Whether they’ll sound quite so alien in America’s future is the central question of this election. 



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