The president of the United States holds a dim view of humanity. It is crude, aristocratic and mean. This was revealed in his famous “you didn’t build that” speech.
First, despite the media reprieve afforded him—first by the Colorado movie theatre massacre, and now by Olympic sports coverage—Barack Obama’s alleged gaffe is still news.
Mr. Krauthammer suggests that Obama’s comments could be so damaging to his re-election campaign that opposition Republicans should replay them until Election Day in November. Mr. Klein is focussed more on correcting the impression left by Obama that the rich don’t pay enough taxes.
What Did He Say?
This is what Obama said on 13 July 2012:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me—because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t—look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
There is a similarity to an August 2011 speech by Elizabeth Warren, senatorial candidate and Harvard Law professor. It should be noted that both speeches were arguments for higher taxes on the rich.
This is what Warren said:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
On the surface, these quotes show two Harvard alumni on the same page: the individual is nothing; he needs support from some group, society or government; if he earns wealth it’s because of luck, or support of the collective to which he must “give back”. This is a variation of the tired old Marxist idea of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. No one should be unaware of where such evil nonsense logically leads.
Troubling however, these remarks indicate a dark view of man. They go against the uniquely American philosophical revolution and are at once crude, aristocratic and mean.
On the most superficial level, ignoring his insults to those who achieve, there is some truth in Obama’s crude assertions. Roads and bridges, and other infrastructure, are needed in an advanced economy. But he confuses cause and effect. Government may build infrastructure by force as much as its central planners want, subject to the constraints of confiscated wealth. It takes people moving goods, trading and communicating to require infrastructure. At best, Obama’s comments could be interpreted and responded to with, “so what?”
At worst, the collectivist, elitist and aristocratic view held by Obama and many intellectuals is that man is a worthless, helpless entity that must rely on others—particularly the state—for survival. That is the view of Thomas Hobbes, who argued in the 17th century that man is essentially a brute animal. He must be politically controlled by an absolute sovereign. There was no “separation of powers” in his political theory. The Hobbesian view is dominant in western culture. That is one of the reasons why the American Revolution was so revolutionary—it went against centuries of such aristocratic views. This makes Barack Obama a counter-revolutionary, modern aristocrat.
Finally, Mr. Obama’s remarks were just mean. That is evident by inference from “…look, if you’ve been successful…” and several following stipulations. The inferred sentiment is that you’re not so smart, you don’t work any harder than anybody else, you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen.
What is he attacking here? Fundamentally, he attacks the virtue of pride and more abstractly, self-esteem. Productive work—no matter what level of achievement is involved—leads to the pride of accomplishment. Pride is a building block of self-esteem, earned cumulatively after each success follows another.
Self-esteem, the realization that one is able to live and flourish—this is what Barack Obama has effectively assaulted. He evidently believes that no one can achieve anything on their own, not even their own sense of self. That is mean.
©Copyright 2012 Edward Podritske