Did Barack Obama attempt diminish healthy skepticism?

“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems.  Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works.  They’ll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner.  You should reject these voices.  Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

“We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems.  We shouldn’t want to.  But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours.  And as citizens, we understand that it’s not about what America can do for us, it’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.  And class of 2013, you have to be involved in that process.”{1}

Was President Barack Obama telling the graduating students of Ohio State University that they should be skeptical of the skeptics, because those voices are wrong, or was he telling them to reject skepticism in general?  If you’ve listened to any of the president’s speeches then you know that he was telling these students to reject skeptical voices not because they’re wrong, but because they’re extremely wrong.  Obama has a habit of not dealing with opposing views as simple opposition, he labels them extreme.  Obama does not differentiate between those of extreme ideological positions and those of a simple philosophical difference on the way to run the federal government.  He views all opposition, all skepticism, as extreme, and he wants you to lump them together too.

If you listen to liberal voices, they will tell you that Obama answered the question of rejecting skeptics in the next paragraph when he said: “We have never been a people that looked to solve our problems, but we shouldn’t look to it as the source of our problems.”  Conservatives would tell you that his “government on steroids” programs have, in fact, caused more to see government as the solution, and more to see government as the problem.  Conservatives would tell you that their efforts to “gum up the works” was an attempt to prevent that from ever happening.

As Roger Pilon writes: “The irony here should not go unnoticed: The opponents that the president disparages are the same folks who tried to save the country from one of the biggest pieces of gum now in the works: Mr. Obama’s own health-care insurance program, which today is filling many of its backers with dread as it moves toward full implementation in a matter of months.” {2}

Another irony here that should not go unnoticed is how skeptical Obama, and all liberals, were of Obama’s predecessor President George W. Bush.  Were liberals “Warning that tyranny is lurking just around the corner?” during the Bush administration?  If you say no, you didn’t speak to a liberal during the Bush administration, you did not read the newspaper, and you did not watch MSNBC.  Is Obama saying that that same skepticism he and all his acolytes showed Bush should not be shown to him?  Is he saying that he and his fellow Democrats, and the skeptical voices in the media that tried to drum up as much skepticism as possible, never tried to “gum up the works” for George W. Bush?

Another irony is that president declared, “We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems,” and in the same speech he said, “Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security free us to take the risks that make this country great.”  So, if we have never looked to government to solve our problems, what are these government programs supposed to free us from?

It is almost inarguable that conservatives (not necessarily Republicans) have the most healthy, and consistent, track record of skepticism.  This may be based on the fact that all of the presidents in the last three decades have progressed the size of government to historic proportions.  A look at both philosophies shows us that skepticism is almost endemic in the conservative philosophy, as conservatives have been consistently skeptical of Republicans and Democrats presidents, Senators, Congressman, and government in general.  Conservatives have a history of skepticism that matches, and takes influence from, the skepticism of the Founding Fathers.  If you asked any true conservative what they thought of George W. Bush, during his era, they would’ve told you, “I like the fact that Bush freed up the individual from the burdensome federal taxes, but…”  That but would’ve been followed by a litany of skepticism regarding all that Bush did during his era to increase the size of government.  It is the conservative that has been consistently for limits on government, founding father principles, and strict Constitutionality regardless who is president.

Another irony is that Obama lauded America’s “unique experiment in self-rule” yet most of the students he was speaking to “will be spending the next 10-15 years struggling to pay off Federal Government backed student loans, paying higher taxes to Federal and State coffers, and paying for Obamacare.”  We are told that these skeptics we should reject, regard self-rule as somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.  Yet, “We are told where and what to smoke, how much soda we can have, what vaccines we must pump into our bodies, that we have no choice in knowing what’s in our GMO laden food, who we can marry, what kinds of toilets we can purchase, whether we can collect rainwater, and on and on and on…”{3}  All of this is not Obama’s doing, granted, but it has led us all to be a lot more skeptical of government in general.

Skepticism is almost solely an American institution.  Throughout our history we have been skeptical of England, Federalists, Democrat-Republicans, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Whigs, the Green Party, and any other faction that has attempted to lead us.  The very basis of our country, our Constitution, is based on this distrust, this skepticism, in the collective capacity of what we, as citizens, can do through government.  Why have we always been skeptical?  Is it because we know that tyranny was “always lurking around the corner” for those that got complacent in the comforts that their government could offer those that desire a freedom from problems?  We know “we shouldn’t want to be this way”, but we have seen the world, and we’ve studied history, and we know that it is just laden with precedents.

Is America exceptional in this regard?  The president, himself, has said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”  In other words, believing in your own exceptionalism is exceptional, but relative to you and where you are.  It’s sort of like believing your favorite sports team is exceptional in their abilities, if you listen to Obama describe his view of American exceptionalism.  So, if we’re not historically exceptional regarding our ability, or our stature in the world, why should we believe that our freedom is so exceptional that we shouldn’t be skeptical of anyone that might be able to take it away from us?  And why should we reject those voices that try to inform us of this?


{2} http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323372504578468772717864406.html



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