“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.” — Alexis de Tocqueville.
I have written about the beginnings of the progressive era going back to Theodore Roosevelt though Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson — a period of some 65 years dating from the turn of the twentieth century. These presidents were influenced by men like John Dewey, Herbert Croly, and Frank Goodnow who were influential in their writings and teaching. They could be considered the leaders of the progressive movement. For simplicity I will refer to these progressives as “Wilsonian Progressives” even though he was only a mere stepping stone in the progressive movement.
In 1915 Herbert Croly wrote in his essay Progressive Democracy:
“Democracy implies and needs some method of representation which will be efficient and responsible enough to carry out a social policy, but which does not imply the delegation of its own ultimate discretionary power to any body of men or body of law. The new system can accomplish nothing without human energy, intelligence, sacrifice and faith, but if those qualities are present, it will make the best use of them.”
These Wilsonian Progressives, while advocating a drift from the philosophy of our Founders and the Constitution, still believed in strict criminal laws, the sanctity of human life, family, patriotism, science, and good character. They believed in American exceptionalism and that the United States stood above other nations in world rank. They did not sanction criminal behavior, laziness, abortion, welfare without work, homosexuality, and biocentric environmental protection for the benefit of sub-human species. What they wanted was an administrative state managed by scientific experts and masterminds who had the proper academic credentials and more power vested in the executive branch.
Post-1960s Progressivism is an incoherent blend of the earlier Progressive emphasis on material and spiritual uplift coupled with a new, adamantly relativistic orientation. This altered Progressivism champions an understanding of freedom as “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the meaning of human life.” Policies that attack the traditional family through the promotion of sexual liberation, the redefinition of racial equality in terms of atonement for alleged historical victimization, and a preference for the preservation of the environment over human flourishing—demonstrate that post-1960s Progressivism not only rejects the ethical ideal of earlier Progressivism; it also denies the Founders’ conception of equality and rights as grounded in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
Post-1960s Progressivism represents a loss of belief in the moral and scientific consensus that animated the earlier Progressives, even while it ostensibly pursues many of the signature policies of the older Progressivism. The more recent Progressivism maintains that true freedom is the right of self-expression and self-determination, in spite of any restraint previously thought of as imposed by nature or a society oriented by an ideal of spiritual uplift. It formulates policies that increase dependency on government while jeopardizing both the pursuit of happiness and the equal protection of rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Post 1960s Progressives believe America is the cause of many of the world’s problems with our use of energy, natural resources, and our military power.
Post-1960s Progressivism actively promotes sexual liberation at the expense of the traditional family in order to overcome the purportedly intolerant and repressive standards of the older morality. Women and gays especially are considered victims of the older moral standards; they deserve legislation promoting their specific interests. As victims, they join thereby the ranks of other minority groups who require special privileges in recompense for discrimination. These policies dovetail with the current elevation of environmental concerns above the rights of individuals—the environment also must be freed from the exploitation of humankind.
The intrusion of government into the daily life of the citizen has greatly expanded in order to promote the interests of the growing number of victim groups. As a consequence of this new orientation, crony capitalism in the economy and an increasingly cynical ruling class of intellectuals and government experts are matched by an ever more detached citizenry. The resulting political situation is one in which not only freedom and equality, but also the security of life and the pursuit of happiness, are regularly harmed rather than secured by government.
In his 1965 commencement address at Howard University Lyndon Johnson said:
“The family is the cornerstone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions, and the values of the child. And when the family collapses it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled. So, unless we work together to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together—all the rest: school, and playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern, will never be enough to cut completely the circle of despair and deprivation.”
Here you can see that, while an unabashed progressive, Johnson took great stock in the family. Today’s Post 1960s Progressives do not believe in the family. They encourage children to be raised in single parent house households through their rules and regulations governing the doling out of welfare payments. A single woman with four children will get a tidy sum if she stays single, but if she marries this sum will be greatly reduced. I would also propose that Johnson, Wilson or Croly would advocate adoption by a homosexual couple or advocate homosexual marriage.
In his 1964 Great Society Speech at the University of Michigan Johnson stated when talking about the environment:
“The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.
It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods. But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.”
Here Johnson was advocating the beautification of our landscape and cities for the use of man (anthropocentric). The Post 1960s Progressives believe that our environment should be protected for sub-human species to the detriment of man. Look at the example of the Central Valley in California where a great deal of our food is grown. Irrigation water has been cut off from these farms and orchards to protect the delta smelt, a little fish that inhabits the regions around San Francisco Bay. The EPA and courts have said that the irrigation waters of the Central Valley make their way to the bay thus killing a fish that no one knows very much about. This decision was made due to the lobbing of a special interest group of biocentric environmentalists over the objections of the farmers and ranchers in the Central Valley thusly increasing the cost of food in your supermarket.
When it came to foreign policy the Wilsonian Progressives believed in a manifest destiny where it was our obligation to “civilize” lesser nations. This is what we did in the Philippines and Puerto Rico. It was in line with the thinking of Cecil Rhodes when he stated it was the white man’s burden to civilize the brown man. Theodore Roosevelt had no qualms about fomenting a civil war in Colombia for the purpose of creating the client state of Panama so he could build his canal. Wilson took this one step further by entering the First World War in order to “make the world safe for democracy”, a democracy ruled by progressives.
The Post 1960s Progressives have taken this Wilsonian Progressivism one step farther by wanting to not only bring democracy to other nations, but to bring educational and cultural reforms. In a speech before the United Nations in recognition of Human Rights Day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:
“It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments.
Some worried in my country that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have a negative effect on our armed forces. Now, the Marine Corps Commandant, who was one of the strongest voices against the repeal, says that his concerns were unfounded and that the Marines have embraced the change”
In June, South Africa took the lead on a resolution about violence against LGBT people. The delegation from South Africa spoke eloquently about their own experience and struggle for human equality and its indivisibility. When the measure passed, it became the first-ever UN resolution recognizing the human rights of gay people worldwide.
The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy.
The President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct.
There is a phrase that people in the United States invoke when urging others to support human rights: “Be on the right side of history.” Those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights were and are on the right side of history, and history honors them.”
Here we have the Secretary of State, a self-proclaimed progressive, urging the Islamic world and other nations with similar beliefs toward homosexuality, like China, to recognize the LGBT life style and agenda. The Post 1960s Progressives have discarded St Augustine’s City of God for the City of Man.
In the City of Man the ruling class (defined as the complex of government, the mainstream media, most of the academy, much of our senior military class and industrial and public sector unions that are tied to government power) are the experts and masterminds that want to control the resources between the haves and have-nots and as Dewey stated provide the mental equipment (education) that will bring the citizens into the progressive fold and away from our founding principle, which he called “negative freedoms.”
The Post 1960s Progressives have two basic core beliefs — the collective (group rights and a victim class) and corporatism.
Collectivism is a philosophy, which can manifest itself in a number of different ideologies; socialism, corporatism and Communism are all different examples of collectivist ideologies. Collectivists may diverge widely on their view of the good society – Nazis and Communists have different values – but the common theme in collectivism is taking a commonplace cliché (“we’re all in this together”) and transforming it into a governmental imperative to act always and only in pursuit of the “common good,” regardless of the varying desires of different individuals. Collectivists pursue policies that are ‘universal’ and mandatory across all of society; they believe not only that society as a whole has obligations to some of its members (the sick, the elderly) but that everyone’s fate must be lashed together whether we like it or not. The true hallmark of collectivism is not that it is against anyone failing on his own, but that it is against anyone succeeding on his own. The advocates of the collectivist state demand that every citizen feel that he did not build his success on his own – and, specifically, that all successes are indebted to the state and contingent on its continuing favor.
The need for a collective common good is, to some degree, true in any society short of anarchy; government provides goods like national defense and law enforcement on a collective basis. But collectivists extend that view to economics, education, health care, urban planning, and retirement. The collectivist approach is to enroll everyone in a single policy or program, to enforce universal participation out of fear that if the majority of the people are left to rise and fall on their own, they cannot be convinced to support their neighbors. The enemy of collectivism is the free individual, the person who needs no financial assistance from the state. The idea that individuals might take care of themselves and care for each other voluntarily is alien to the collectivist mind.
The opposite of collectivism is individualism, the philosophy in which people take responsibility for themselves and their families. Individualism does not, whatever liberals may tell you, necessarily lead to a callous disregard for one’s fellow man; the individualist may choose to give generously to charity, as many do. But to the individualist, charity is a voluntary choice, perhaps a moral obligation; it is not a mandate of the state.
Communism and socialism, which to varying degrees make the state a thing all people and property belong to, are the most familiar forms of collectivism. But corporatism has an equally long pedigree. This is a fairly concise explanation of the political-economic system of corporatism and a little of its intellectual history:
“The basic idea of corporatism is that the society and economy of a country should be organized into major interest groups (sometimes called corporations) and representatives of those interest groups settle any problems through negotiation and joint agreement. In contrast to a market economy which operates through competition a corporate economic works through collective bargaining. The American president Lyndon Johnson had a favorite phrase that reflected the spirit of corporatism. He would gather the parties to some dispute and say, “Let us reason together.”
Under corporatism the labor force and management in an industry belong to an industrial organization. The representatives of labor and management settle wage issues through collective negotiation. While this was the theory in practice the corporatist states were largely ruled according to the dictates of the supreme leader.
One early and important theorist of corporatism was Adam Müller, an advisor to Prince Metternich in what is now eastern Germany and Austria. Müller propounded his views as an antidote to the twin dangers of the egalitarianism of the French Revolution and the laissez faire economics of Adam Smith. In Germany and elsewhere there was a distinct aversion among rulers to allow markets to function without direction or control by the state. The general culture heritage of Europe from the medieval era was opposed to individual self-interest and the free operation of markets. Markets and private property were acceptable only as long as social regulation took precedence over such sinful motivations as greed.
Coupled with the anti-market sentiments of the medieval culture there was the notion that the rulers of the state had a vital role in promoting social justice. Thus corporatism was formulated as a system that emphasized the positive role of the state in guaranteeing social justice and suppressing the moral and social chaos of the population pursuing their own individual self-interests. And above all else, as a political economic philosophy corporatism was flexible. It could tolerate private enterprise within limits and justify major projects of the state. Corporatism has sometimes been labeled as a Third Way or a mixed economy, a synthesis of capitalism and socialism, but it is in fact a separate, distinctive political economic system.”
The crucial distinction between corporatism and socialism is that socialism demands public ownership and operation of businesses and other major institutions, whereas corporatism tolerates private ownership while insinuating pervasive government control.
In particular, the Roosevelt New Deal despite its many faults could not be described as fascist. But definitely the New Deal was corporatist. The architect for the initial New Deal program was General Hugh Johnson. Johnson had been the administrator of the military mobilization program for the U.S. under Woodrow Wilson during World War I. It was felt that he did a good job of managing the economy during that period and that is why he was given major responsibility for formulating an economic program to deal with the severe problems of the Depression. But between the end of World War I and 1933 Hugh Johnson had become an admirer of Mussolini's National Corporatist system in Italy and he drew upon the Italian experience in formulating the New Deal. It should be noted that many elements of the early New Deal were later declared unconstitutional and abandoned, but some elements such as the National Labor Relations Act which promoted unionization of the American labor force are still in effect. One part of the New Deal was the development of the Tennessee River Valley under the public corporation called the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Some of the New Dealer saw TVA as more than a public power enterprise. They hoped to make TVA a model for the creation of regional political units which would replace state governments. Their goal was not realized. The model for TVA was the river development schemes carried out in Spain in the 1920's under the government of Miguel Primo de Rivera. Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the son of Miguel Primo de Rivera, was the founder of Franco's National Syndicalism.
It’s almost impossible to find real-world examples of a pure laissez faire economy; in practice, all states that are not wholly Communist have adopted some elements of the corporatist approach, but the degree to which corporatist thought and policy trump free-market ideas can vary widely in practice. Historically, the classic corporatist systems have operated in fascist states such as Mussolini’s Italy and, yes, Nazi Germany, but the United States also followed a heavily corporatist policy during World War I under Woodrow Wilson and throughout FDR’s New Deal. Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism presents one of the more detailed-yet-accessible histories of this strain in American politics since Wilson, covering its intellectual common ground with the European fascist economic and social-policy systems.
If the natural enemy of the collectivist system in general is the free individual, the natural enemy of the corporatist system is the free institution — the private business (from small businesses to large corporations), the free church, the independent trade union, the private civic or charitable organization (e.g., the Boy Scouts), the private hospital, the homeowner’s association or neighborhood watch, the unregulated newspaper, TV channel or political action committee — in short, any way in which individuals can associate with each other or participate in the life of their communities without the intermediation of government telling them how to do so. These are what Edmund Burke called our “little platoons,” the non-governmental civil society that Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America identified as central to the American experience. And while respect for such institutions is especially critical to the American way of life, they are central to civil society anywhere: even the proverb “it takes a village to raise a child,” appropriated by Hillary Clinton and other liberal Democrats in support of collectivist enterprises, need not necessarily imply government, but rather community — neighbors and families looking out for each other.
Corporatist systems do not seek the abolition of these institutions — the Italian Fascists, unlike the Communists, did not reflexively ban Christian churches or private corporations — but rather to co-opt, compromise and control them, to ensure that a combination of financial enticements and regulations saps them of their independence from the state. The same impulse, in the American federal system, extends even to the independence of state and local governments; as long as things like health and education are the province of many and varied governments, corporatist systems fear that they will not be able to impose their policies universally and must contend with competition from approaches that may prove more attractive in practice. Few Americans are pure Rugged Individualists or Randian Objectivists, committed to every-man-for-himself; more so even than the size of government or the imposition on the individual, it is the assault on private organizations, community groups and local government that brings corporatism into conflict with fundamental American values and traditions.
Corporatism’s focus on collective bargaining inherently promotes bigness — Big Government, Big Business, Big Labor. The national leader, like Obama, can sit at a bargaining table with a handful of CEOs and union heads, and determine what price is needed to buy off their support for a particular policy, or what threats are required to keep them all in line; he cannot do the same with thousands of small businesses and local school boards. (This is, ironically, why corporatist systems took root more easily in Catholic countries, as the Catholic Church is a much larger target than a profusion of tiny Protestant congregations. It is also why it’s easier to control urban populations than diffuse rural ones). Large organizations can more easily absorb and accommodate themselves to gradual increases in state control without noticing, as the burdens of an administrative state squeeze their smaller competitors out of business. And large organizations can also more easily conceal in their large balance sheets the washing of the other hand — the campaign contribution, donation to a favored cause or outright bribe needed to persuade the corporatist political leader to look upon the organization with the favors the state can dispense, and not withhold them.
Socialism has a role in the corporatist state: it’s the bad cop. The corporatist leader can always implicitly, or explicitly, threaten that his followers — or his political adversaries or neighboring states, for that matter — are the mob that wants to demand a wholesale takeover, which only he can hold back, so you had better play ball. This is where corporatism’s philosophy is married to the practical tactics of the urban political machine, nowhere in America more entrenched than in Chicago.
This brings us to Obama and his party. Obama does not merely have a disdain for working in the private sector — it is a deeper ideological commitment to delegitimize that sector as a force independent from the government. Obama touched off a firestorm in mid-July when he gave the following remarks (tellingly, at a speech in which he was not using a Teleprompter); it’s worth both reading them and watching the video to get the full context:
“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.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. 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.”
Here, in a nutshell, is the collectivist mindset contending with a straw man version of individualism. Obama sets up a parallel between pure individualism of a sort that exists nowhere — an individualism that denies the existence of communities, private institutions and routine institutions of local government — and support for the length and breadth of his expansive federal agenda. He doesn’t merely argue for recognition of the need for basic public services; he directly attacks the idea that intelligence and hard work are important elements of success, suggesting that what is really important is who gives you help. (Be sure to watch in the video for how he feeds off the crowd’s enthusiasm for his mockery of merit and hard work). In so doing, of course, he marginalizes to the point of non-existence the role of anything but government in creating businesses. The fallacy of this is obvious: places like North Korea do not have booming economies simply because their governments have invested a lot of money in road-building. But what Obama was doing in that speech was seeking to delegitimize private success as a thing owing no debt to government officials. The idea of people who don’t owe the government anything seems to alarm him. Obama’s words echoed a 2011 speech by Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, another radical Post 1960s Progressive:
“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.”
There has been a decades-long legal-academic movement to reject or at least diminish the Lockean natural-law concept of property (i.e., property is something created or built by the labor of individuals, which the State arises to protect from Hobbesian brigands) and elevate in its place a “New Property” in which property is defined, more or less, as what the State permits you to keep. The full intellectual history of this movement is well beyond the scope of this essay; the roots run at least to the effort to justify the New Deal’s intrusions on property rights, and at the endpoint reach the Marxist worldview of the Critical Legal Studies movement and its critiques of the entire idea of individual rights. The real landmark for understanding the movement is Charles A. Reich’s celebrated 1964 Yale Law Journal article entitled “The New Property.”
Reich noted the ever-growing share of national wealth, even in 1964, that derived from “government largesse” — public employment, welfare benefits, occupational licenses, subsidies, government contracts, use of public lands — and argued that too much of this largesse was enjoyed at the mercy of essentially lawless administrative discretion. Reich argued that some of this largesse should be considered property:
“As things now stand, violations lead to forfeitures-outright confiscation of wealth and status. Confiscation, if used at all, should be the ultimate, not the most common and convenient penalty. The presumption should be that the professional man will keep his license and the welfare recipient his pension. These interests should be “vested.” If revocation is necessary, not by reason of the fault of the individual holder, but by reason of overriding demands of public policy, perhaps payment of just compensation would be appropriate. The individual should not bear the entire loss for a remedy primarily intended to benefit the community.”
Reich argued in particular for property-rights protections for welfare benefits, as “part of the individual’s rightful share in the commonwealth.” Reich warned as well that:
“[T]he growth of government power based on the dispensing of wealth must be kept within bounds…[T]here must be a zone of privacy for each individual beyond which neither government nor private power can push-a hiding place from the all-pervasive system of regulation and control…If the individual is to survive in a collective society, he must have protection against its ruthless pressures. There must be sanctuaries or enclaves where no majority can reach.”
To collectivists, the more people receive benefits of one kind or another from the government, the more they can be treated as compromised in their standing to object to endless expansions of government. ThinkProgress, for example, cites as a point of pride a factoid showing that 96% of Americans have received some form of government support, undoubtedly through gritted teeth at the remaining 4%.
In Obama’s case, of course, there’s also the matter of his long experience of machine politics in Chicago. Abner Mikva, one of Obama’s mentors, in the 1990s, used to tell this story about his introduction to Chicago politics:
“[O]n the way home from law school one night in 1948, I stopped by the ward headquarters in the ward where I lived. There was a street-front, and the name Timothy O’Sullivan, Ward Committeeman, was painted on the front window. I walked in and I said “I’d like to volunteer to work for [Adlai] Stevenson and [Paul] Douglas.” This quintessential Chicago ward committeeman took the cigar out of his mouth and glared at me and said, “Who sent you?” I said, “Nobody sent me.” He put the cigar back in his mouth and he said, “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” This was the beginning of my political career in Chicago.”
Between the typical machine politician’s view that what matters is who sent you and the academic view that what matters is who helped you, it’s easy to see where Obama picked up the view that individual success is not an idea worth taking seriously.
Where does this attitude lead? To justifying high-handed government interference in business, first and foremost by deciding that the government is within its rights in redistributing the fruits of business success away from those who would otherwise keep them.
Obama has spoken often enough of his desire for more governmental redistribution of wealth. Here he is as a State Senator in 1998, talking about his goals in housing and education:
“[A]s we try to resuscitate this notion that we’re all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking how, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live, and my suggestion I guess would be that the trick, and this is one of the few areas where I think there have to be technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to just political issues, how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”
Here’s State Senator Obama again in 2001, discussing his view that it was a “tragedy” that the civil rights movement did not do more to “bring about redistributive change”:
“If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples. But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and the more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society, and to that extent, as radical as, I think, people try to characterize the Warren court, it wasn’t that radical; it didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. One of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think, there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways, we still suffer from that. You can craft theoretical justification for it legally, and any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts.”
Obama’s long and close association with ACORN (including training its activists), known among other things for its agitation directed at getting banks to distribute more loans to subprime borrowers, is of course a logical outgrowth of this view. In a 2002 speech, Obama – dripping scorn – offered his audience a rationalization for drawing a moral equivalence between layoffs and riots:
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but rich people are all for nonviolence. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve got what they want. They want to make sure people don’t take their stuff. When a company town sees its plant closing because some distant executives made some decision despite the wage concessions, despite the tax breaks, and they see their entire economy collapsing, they feel violence.”
In the same speech, Obama argued that it was “fundamentally unjust” to have an educational system that is not redistributive:
“Illinois, like many states in the country, has an education system that is funded by property taxes. It is fundamentally unjust. So you have folks up in Winnetka, pupils who are getting five times as much money per student as students in the South Side of Chicago.”
Note that the argument here is not merely that the students in the South Side need more funds in their schools, but that it is unfair to them that another community is using its own money to spend more on its own schools. This captures perfectly the spirit of collectivism, in which success is seen as an affront if it is independent of the rest of the community.
Obama has become cagier in how he talks about redistribution, but the mask sometimes drops. In his first presidential campaign, late in the 2008 primaries, Obama responded to a debate question from Charlie Gibson by admitting that he’d raise capital gains taxes “for purposes of fairness” regardless of whether it brought in any additional revenue — proof that his devotion to the oft-touted Buffett Rule was never about revenue:
“GIBSON: And in each instance, when the rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased; the government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28 percent, the revenues went down.
So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?
OBAMA: Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.
We saw an article today which showed that the top 50 hedge fund managers made $29 billion last year — $29 billion for 50 individuals. And part of what has happened is that those who are able to work the stock market and amass huge fortunes on capital gains are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That’s not fair.”
The logical end result of this view of the illegitimacy of private enterprise and the right of government to redistribute the proceeds of private labor is to break down the barriers to a government-controlled collective society. But such a society needs a positive ideology of its own, and we see that as well from Obama, his wife and his party.
From the outset of the national Obama movement, many of the trappings of collectivist and in particular corporatist movements were apparent – the obsessive veneration of youth, the insistence that the movement represented a “Third Way” stressing pragmatism over ideology, the cult of the Man of Action (one could hardly hope to count the number of times Obama declared that “the time for talk is over” or variants of the same). Michelle Obama, in February 2008, famously framed the movement as one that would place upon its supporters demands of continuing active allegiance, rather than individual independence and privacy:
“Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, and uninformed.
You have to stay at the seat at the table of democracy with a man like Barack Obama not just on Tuesday but in a year from now, in four years from now, in eight years from now, you will have to be engaged.”
The unusual extent to which the Obama campaign has marketed itself as a movement centered on a cult of personality is directed at this impulse to have supporters belong and not simply support. More recently, we have seen the Obama campaign pushing its own flag with the Obama logo in place of the stars in the American flag (Obama’s own Twitter account urged supporters to buy this from his campaign store), its own hand-over-heart salute and similar iconography, and the like. The Democrats’ own convention, this year, featured an opening-night video declaring that “Government is the only thing that we all belong to,” unfavorably contrasting the “different churches or different clubs” that Americans belong to.
From Johnson to Obama the Post 1960s Progressives have been hard at work pushing their agenda of Collectivism, Group Rights, Victimhood, and Corporatism. I do not blame only Democrats, but Republicans have been doing their share by either joining in or standing on the sidelines. Today we have a nation where the Congress has abdicated much of its constitutional authority to the executive and courts, something our Founders never conceived.