On July 13, 2012, President Obama made his “you didn’t build that” speech. His remarks explained why he was running for President: “We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.” Obama explained that “there are some things we do better together.” By “together”, he meant through, with and by government.
When Obama thinks of the “this” that we’re in together, it’s a big category that contains lots of “things we do better together.”
The President starts out accurately enough: “…if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own.” But just 3 paragraphs later when he is praising big government and acting as if one’s success is attributable to government, his conclusion doesn’t ring true. He starts well “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.” The latter, which is true of many people, doesn’t lead to his conclusion: “We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.” Big government, coercive by construction, doesn’t follow from the actions of individual persons helping one another. The “togetherness” of individuals helping one another doesn’t translate into the forced toegtherness of government. The President’s argument is a dud.
It would take many pages for me to recount all the very many men and women who have befriended me, counseled me, furthered my education and helped me along the rocky road of life. At every stage of my life, there have been such people: among relatives, among my parents’ friends, among co-workers, among teachers, among friends and acquaintances. And they have appeared in every activity and place one can name.
Government played no part in these relationships. I had no reason to pay any attention to government. It was simply a distant entity. The first major time that I had to deal with government was when it placed me in the pool of men who were of draft age. My first major contact was its requirement that I go into a military force, with the prospect of going to Vietnam. This was not a “this” or a “togetherness” that I relished. This was not one of those “things we do better together”, in my opinion. I avoided it like the plague.
We rise or fall together because we are forced to do so by the government. It is not a voluntary choice. This is not a wise or prudent arrangement. Being made to put all our eggs into one government basket is dangerous. The person or persons carrying that basket can drop it. The persons toting that basket can press a nuclear war button. They can press war buttons and economy buttons that are just as devastating to us as the nuclear war button. Concentrating power is dangerous. Enforced togetherness is a sword of regimentation.
Americans are not a nation or a people by the traditional definitions. What does bind us together? I have had many, many mentors. All sorts of people. People of many persuasions, beliefs, religions, nationalities, educational attainments, classes, sexes, races, ethnicities and sexual preferences. If none of these was a common factor binding them together, what was? Did they have a shared history and sense of group identity? Unlikely. These are not things that came to the fore in the personal relationships I’ve experienced.
When I think about, there is one factor that was common. It was that, with respect to me, they displayed and lived out an ethic of trust, kindness, friendliness and conviviality. They didn’t attempt to dominate me or overpower me. They didn’t try to indoctrinate me. If they had, I would have dissociated from them. I would say, loosely speaking, that the influence of a Christian ethic is what pervaded the people I have known. Not in a strict sense by any stretch of the imagination, because there were non-Christians, agnostics and atheists among them. And there was only a handful of identifiable Christians. These people were not saints, either. I am saying that the general influence of some versions of Christian ethics is what undergirds the kind of togetherness that Obama has mentioned when he speaks of personal, not government, relations. I recognize that there are numerous ideas about Christian ethics and they conflict.
When Obama speaks about government and neglects to mention that government is coercive, he goes entirely onto a different basis than the person-to-person Christian influence. He and others in government may point to goals of doing good that sound Christian, but reconciling these with the coercive means that government uses is, to my way of thinking, an impossibility. And coercion does not square at all with how the people I have known actually behave.
Government is not a person-to-person relationship. However, because the Christian ethics are fundamental to the relationships of people in this country, even if such ethics are not explicitly affirmed by people and even if people disagree on the right and wrong of many particulars, government officials do what they can to drape their policies in those terms. Bush’s “axis of evil” and his reference to “arming to threaten the peace of the world” is an example. At the same time, government is busy placing many personal relationships on a statutory and legal basis that grounds them in relations of power rather than in the inculcation of Christian ethics that become manifested through voluntary personal choices.10:51 am on February 16, 2014 Email Michael S. Rozeff