Politics & Policy

Obama’s Declaration

Suppose the president were candid in his use of the Founders.

Barack Obama really loves the Declaration of Independence. To be sure, you couldn’t tell by looking at the conduct of his administration or his policy proposals. But you’d have to go back to Reagan to find a president who invoked our founding charter as often as Obama does.

In his statement applauding the Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama alluded to the Declaration: “We are a people who declared that we are all created equal — and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Two weeks earlier, at a reception for LGBT Pride Month, he invoked it by name. Gay marriage, he had the audacity to claim, could “be traced back to our Declaration of Independence — the fundamental principle that all of us are created equal.”

The entirety of his second inaugural address was couched in the language of the Founding. From the opening invocation of the “patriots of 1776” to the cadence of the five successive invocations of “We, the people,” you could think Jefferson or Lincoln had written it. Except, of course, for the bits about “the threat of climate change,” entitlements, fair pay for women, and the thinly veiled reference to gun control.

The president was at it again in May during his commencement address at Ohio State University, when he played the Founding card to call for more togetherness through government spending. “What the Founders left us,” Obama explained, “[is] the power, each of us, to adapt to changing times. They left us the keys to a system of self-government, the tools to do big things and important things together that we could not possibly do alone.”

Since the president recognizes the need “to adapt to changing times,” perhaps he should just go one step further, rewrite the whole Declaration, and stop the charade. At least then we would all know what he and like-minded liberals believe. No more trying to infer the progressive principles that guide his thinking; rather, we would have a clear statement of the axioms of modern liberalism, coupled with a frank admission that the principles of the Founding just aren’t up to the task of supporting a big-government social-justice agenda.

Given his fondness for collective action, Obama could call it a “Declaration of Interdependence.” And he could begin by explaining why it’s time to scrap the old Declaration:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one People to abandon the Principles which have hitherto guided them, and to embrace the more progressive Ideals which their quest for Equality, Fairness, and social Justice demands of them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of the global Community requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

Then, borrowing a line from Woodrow Wilson — “If you want to understand the real Declaration of Independence, do not repeat the preface” — Obama could rewrite that second paragraph to make it more friendly to the state:

We hold these Values to be self-evident, that all human Beings are born into vastly unequal Conditions, that to attain their full Potential they are to be endowed by the State with an ever-expanding Set of Rights, that among these are day Care and health Care; Contraception and Abortion; higher Education, a Placement Service, and a remunerative Job; affordable Housing, pension Plans, and whatever else may contribute to Happiness — That to obtain these Rights, administrative States are established over Men and Women, deriving their just Powers from the impartial Expertise of those administering them — That whenever any new strong Desires take hold of the People, it is the Duty of their Leaders to declare them to be Rights, and to expand the scope and reach of the State, laying its Foundation on such Values and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their economic Security and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Programs once established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that the People are more disposed to suffer, while these Programs are new, than to wrong themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are not yet accustomed. But when a long Train of Benefits and Payments, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to elevate them to effective Freedom, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to consolidate these Gains, and to demand new Programs, Entitlements, and Rights for their future Security.

The list of charges would also have to be updated. The recriminations against King George III could give way to a list of indictments against those tea-party types who continue to distrust government. Here are some suggestions:

They have refused the Passage of Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

They have forbidden our Bureaucrats to pass Regulations of immediate and pressing Importance.

They have endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of undocumented Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither.

They have tried to defund the Multitude of new administrative Offices, and sent hither Swarms of People to harass our Officers, and eat out their Substance.

They have abdicated the American Dream, by declaring the 99 percent out of their Protection and allowing the 1 percent to wage War against us.

They have permitted big Oil to plunder our seas, ravage our Coasts, burn our Towns, and destroy the Lives of our People. 

They have excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and have endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Hinterland, the merciless Tea Party Activist, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction of all social, scientific, and political Progress that has been achieved in the past 200 Years.

Cut out all that stuff about “the Supreme Judge of the World” and “Divine Providence,” throw in a conclusion absolving America from all allegiance to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and voilà! you have a 21st-century declaration for a 21st-century people.

Alas, President Obama is unlikely to be this frank. In this regard, he remains a disciple not of Woodrow Wilson but of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who couched his entire statist agenda in the language of the Founding.

And so, on this Fourth of July, as on every other day of the year, we must continue to remind our fellow Americans that our Declaration, to say nothing of our Constitution, does not call for the enactment of the entire Democratic-party platform.

We must remind them that natural rights aren’t positive economic rights — they are meant to check the powers of the government, not to require others to pay for our health care and contraceptives.

We must remind them that natural human equality is synonymous with government by consent, not gay marriage, affirmative action, progressive taxation. or social-engineering schemes to level opportunities and results.

We must remind them that the government does not empower the people — instead, the people delegate certain powers to the government. For we believe, with Frederick Douglass, that human beings are born with legs and are not in need of (government-issued) crutches.

We must remind them that religious liberty and property rights — not a higher minimum wage and free day care — are inextricably bound up with “the pursuit of happiness.”

Lastly, given the aggressive agenda of Obama and his progressive ilk, we must remind all Americans of one of the most underappreciated passages in our great charter of liberty: When the King trampled on the rights of the colonists, our forefathers’ response was to oppose “with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the People.”

— David Azerrad is a research fellow and associate director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.

David Azerrad — Mr. Azerrad is an assistant professor at Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, D.C.

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