Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A False Middle

Obama's Saturday speech at Michigan University was really good at showing off Obama's skill as a rhetorical strategist and also showed that Obama has relearned some old liberal tricks.  Obama's speech was, on the surface, a defense of civility in political life, but was actually an implied defense of his administration's economic policies.  Several rhetorical approaches stuck out.

1.  Like FDR before him, Obama co-opts the language of skepticism of overly large or expensive government.  Just like FDR said excess government needed to be cut, Obama said that skepticism of the government was "a strand of our Nation's DNA", but a strand that needed balancing with the idea that "government must keep pace with the times."  This reduces the idea of limits on government to the judgement of the technocrat who must balance his "skepticism" about expanding his own power over society with the needs of the times. Is there really any doubt that the needs of society will require the technocrats to expand their power?  We had to take over GM, we could do no other.  I also think that this is in some ways an insight into the mind of a certain kind of left-leaning technocrat.  They don't want the government to intervene in the economy any more than they have to.  If it was up to them, GM would be profitable without much government involvement.  Same thing with the environment and energy.  If the Earth could be saved and millions of awesome green job created without a huge program of taxes and subsidies, that would be best, but the pace of the times call for cap and trade.  Now on to health care...

2.  Obama is smart to implicitly defend his statist policies in nonpartisan terms.  Obama implicitly puts himself in the tradition of TR trust busting and Eisenhower highway building rather than focusing on the building and expansion of the welfare state under FDR and LBJ.  This is a smart move and is in contrast to the crude and transparent partisan history of the most overpraised liberal speech of the 1980s. 

Discussions - 2 Comments

Thanks for these insights. The DNA reference may merit further explication: We are hard-wired skeptics of government;, but future generations may benefit from Ueber-Progressive genetic engineering! Compare this speech with TR's and WW's original speeches on behalf of Progressivism, especially WW's "What is Progress?"

Ken, I wouldn't dismiss the idea that Obama thinks that skepticism of government is a good quality to have and a quality that he has. After all, he might say to himself, "I didn't take over Microsoft and wouldn't even if I could have. I may, in my heart be in favor of single-payer health care, but I don't want the even more statist British NHS system." We might think of him as a technocratic statist but he might truly seem himself as a pragmatist in a country with way too many antigovernment fanatics

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