I’ve been pleasantly surprised by President Obama’s steadfastness regarding national security issues. After winning his party’s nomination by promising to surrender in Iraq more quickly than the other Democrats would, Obama has:
- retained his predecessor’s defense secretary;
- adopted his predecessor’s timetable for responsible disengagement in Iraq;
- supported his own rhetoric about the importance of Afghanistan by sending more troops; and
- continued, as recently as Saturday, his predecessor’s policy of pilotless drone missile strikes at Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan.
Credit where credit is due: Thank you, President Obama.
But in the long run, America’s national security depends as much on our economy as it does on our military prowess. And on that score, my Obama-inspired surprises have been less pleasant.
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma sums it up:
I believe President Obama has proposed the most significant shift toward collectivism and away from capitalism in the history of our republic. I believe his budget aspires to not merely promote economic recovery but to lay the groundwork for sweeping expansions of government authority in areas like health care, energy and even daily commerce. If handled poorly, I’m concerned this budget could turn our government into the world’s largest health care provider, mortgage bank or car dealership, among other things.
In short, the goal seems to be to make America more like Europe. And while there is much to admire in Europe’s history, to emulate the Europe of today is to risk compromising the self-sufficiency and sense of personal empowerment that have made America the strongest country in the world, both militarily and economically. Charles Murray:
If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith. Two clarifications: “Community” can embrace people who are scattered geographically. “Vocation” can include avocations or causes. …
Seen in this light, the goal of social policy is to ensure that those institutions are robust and vital. And that’s what’s wrong with the European model. It doesn’t do that. It enfeebles every single one of them. …
The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality–it drains some of the life from them. It’s inevitable. Families are not vital because the day-to-day tasks of raising children and being a good spouse are so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the family does them. Communities are not vital because it’s so much fun to respond to our neighbors’ needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met–family and community really do have the action–then an elaborate web of social norms, expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time that supports families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.
Murray’s lengthy speech is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s another key excerpt:
American exceptionalism is not just something that Americans claim for themselves. Historically, Americans have been different as a people, even peculiar, and everyone around the world has recognized it. I’m thinking of qualities such as American optimism even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it. That’s quite uncommon among the peoples of the world. There is the striking lack of class envy in America–by and large, Americans celebrate others’ success instead of resenting it. That’s just about unique, certainly compared to European countries, and something that drives European intellectuals crazy. And then there is perhaps the most important symptom of all, the signature of American exceptionalism–the assumption by most Americans that they are in control of their own destinies. It is hard to think of a more inspiriting quality for a population to possess, and the American population still possesses it to an astonishing degree. No other country comes close. …
The exceptionalism has not been a figment of anyone’s imagination, and it has been wonderful. But it isn’t something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government’s job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government’s job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away.
Some level of increased government intervention is necessary to avoid catastrophic damage to the global economy. But the Obama administration, having decided not to let a good crisis go to waste, has set off on a course that will vastly increase the scope of government power. This needs to be resisted.