Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | September 21, 2010

Great, Now He’s the Rewarder-in-Chief

In the frenzy over the townhall questioner’s question yesterday – “Are hot dogs and beans my new reality?” – Obama’s response has been widely missed.  Yes, the response was dismissive and lame, discursive and yet virtually content-free.  But it contained a brief and perfect encapsulation of his philosophy of government, which is the philosophy of government toward which the political left spent the last century trending.  Video here.

And this is the money passage:

The life you describe, one of responsibility, looking after your family, contributing back to your community – that’s what we want to reward.

I was driving and heard this on the radio – the clip was played endlessly yesterday – and my immediate thought was, “Who’s ‘we,’ keemosabe, and who died and made you God?”

The idea of a winning style of life being selected for us by a central authority – and being encouraged by “reward” – is a central tenet of Western leftism.  Back when I was in college, during the Cold War, campus leftists always assured us that when we implemented this kind of authority, it would be about rewards and voluntarism, as opposed to the unfortunate practice in all existing Communist countries of making it about coercion and punishment.  (They always had to be brought up short by a questioner about the “excesses” of Communist zealotry, because they never pointed it out themselves.)  Obama – a close contemporary of mine in age – no doubt heard the same things from campus leftists.

But this is a collectivist idea, period.  It cannot be rationalized in any political system in which individual freedom is the priority.  It’s antithetical to the American political idea of limited, constitutional, republican government.  Government anointing itself to set a schedule of lifestyle rewards for the people is government conceiving itself to be far too big, too intrusive, and too much aligned with a collectivist ideology.

Government does have proper functions, but as a servant of the people and with a limited charter.  There is literally no one of us with the competence to prescribe how others should live and then supervise them, with the power of the state behind us, in that project.  Government is just other people, whom we have handed a gun and authorized – for a very limited set of purposes – to point it at our heads.

The truth is, moreover, that government can achieve an effect only through one or more of the following:  punishment, taxation, purchase, and favoritism.  Government can’t work through lifestyle reward; it can only enforce conditions that allow the natural rewards of positive lifestyles to accrue to the people unhindered.  This truth is why the Communist proposition always – always – degenerates into punishment for nearly everyone and favoritism for a few.  It’s because those are the tools government has. Government doesn’t have inspiration, hope, or the synergy of innovation and market dynamics in its toolbox; and it can’t make the rest of humanity reward each of us, on an artificial basis, as humanity is naturally inclined to reward us if we live in certain, well-established and positive ways.

Government actively gets in the way of reward by trying to design it or fine-tune it – because government’s only tools for carrying that program out are punishment, taxation, and favoritism (with purchase thrown in under the favoritism heading, as when government creates new dependencies by subsidizing or buying the products of uneconomic industries). The more things government is doing, the more punishment, taxation, favoritism, and purchase (at taxpayer expense) are going on.  Government literally cannot work through other means, because it’s government.

So when Obama talks about the behavior “we want to reward,” think managerial government on the European model – but think also of Lenin and Stalin, of Castro, and of Mao.  If you didn’t learn about their use of punishment and favoritism in school, think about the lifestyle autocrats you did learn about.  When Obama says he wants to reward the people for behavior, he’s speaking like Oliver Cromwell, or like a European monarch of the Middle Ages with sumptuary laws and courts of religious inquiry, or like a Roman emperor offering to reward peoples who were willing to subject themselves to Rome with citizenship, administrative subordination, Roman troops on their soil, and Roman control of their trade.

In referring to government choosing the behavior it wants to reward, Obama is merely aligned with one of the perennial patterns of humanity.  Today’s leftists have slapped a different label on it, but it’s the same old urge to autocracy.  America’s very essence is the proposition that government need not and should not be autocratic:  that the people have not just the right but the authority to tell government, “Do this for me; but that’s too much.”  Of course we can say that to government.

After all, as a well-known president used to say, we’re Americans.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.



  1. Yup, I caught that immediately too when I heard it. When people are allowed to determine their own paths and forge their way down it without the State interfering, they reap their OWN rewards: work they enjoy, families provided for, money in the bank for a rainy day, college education, discretionary income to play with…..Obama is not even hiding who he is anymore, really. My hope is that people continue to wake up and “catch” him as we did. Of course, even if those in the MSM do catch it, they won’t cover it. I’m glad you commented on this.

    • I don’t think this is something the Dear Leader thinks he needs to hide. Generally he is far too convinced of the incontravertable “common sense” of his positions and thinks that they are, indeed, quite moderate and reasonable. To be sure he holds that some of the yahoos round and about need to be humored and while something like single payer healthcare is a no brainer for him he disclaims any such current intention (he had embraced it in the past but this was hardly necessary to realize this is what he favors) even as he is convinced Obamacare takes us in this direction sooner rather than later.

      The sentiment OC takes issues with is so deeply ingrained in his world view that he would be astonished by the proposition that he needs to hide it. And in this I am very much afraid he may be right. This sort of drivel is so thoroughly ingrained in our education system and discourse that there are many educated, essentially (if vaguely) conservative people who have never voted for a Democrat and are horrified at what the Leader has perpetrated who would let it pass without notice.

  2. I’d like to point out another “little” Obama slip, he didn’t just leave out the line”by their Creator” in his new Declaration, he left out the words”that among these are” which come before Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The writers of the Declaration were declaring TREASON at the time so I’m sure they wanted to emphasize that there might be other rights they would get to latter along in this new independence project. They did later, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. I guess the 3 rights Obama mentioned are the only ones the Democrats are willing to concede, for the time being, to the serfs.

  3. Hopefully, we will reward him with a swift kick in the pants and out the door in 2012.

  4. I weep for our country. Each day I am more convinced it is too late to save it properly. I hope I’m wrong.

  5. This speaks volumes about human dignity. Are we the masters of our own lives, or are we pathetic recipients of government aid?

    Mister Peanut can get away with saying this kind of stuff only because history and civics are not taught here. Generations have grown up without an appreciation of who we are.

    The human race has endless potential, but not like this.

  6. It is collapsing. At its core this is what the tea parties are really protesting. Who died and made the govt God?

    If I want a family, then no one is going to help me take care of it outside of letting you shield a little income from taxes because it costs more.

    If you don’t want to take care of a family , don’t have one.

    If you don’t want to work, then its your problem when you go hungary and get kicked out of your home.

    I don’t need the govt to tell me to be responsible. I will be responsible because because the alternative is unpleasant.

  7. This must mean that there’ll soon be a “Reward Czar”, maybe a spot for a recently retired NBA point guard or a golfer with a nagging injury.

  8. We are not a country which resents success. The Great American Dream means we love success, because most of us have seen that it is possible to get rich in this great country. We are an upwardly mobile people and we admire hard work, discipline and intelligence, all of which we know can result here in millionaires. The 0bamas, instead, would like to restrict this kind of wealth to those who are correctly connected. They view us as little children who must have certainty, and they make false promises of certainty which they of course can never deliver. We understand that we are imperfect and we live in an imperfect world full of uncertainties. This calls out to us to be disciplined and prepared and intelligent to look after ourselves and those we love.

  9. The constant reign of childish carping continues.
    The dripping never ceases.

    Maybe someone might be willing to consider that government is a collectivist idea, period.

    There never has been a government that doesn’t reward behavior and didn’t want to reward behavior.

    Calling it a leftist idea is not merely ignorant, it’s also an absurdity.

    • Alfred E. Newman was supercilious too.

      So was Nubile Chamberloin.

      Just because somebody can tell the difference between Ray Charles and Pat Boone doesn’t
      make him an expert on something like the dynamics of economic growth or the realities of looming wars.

      Wishful thinking prevents clear recognition of Barry 0’s reckless arrogance. He’s making it up as he goes while you hop about like a ….
      well, that maybe splains the happy frog.

    • Eh Fuster. Life before liberty. The great thing about Obamacare is that it constrains liberty in all sorts of wonderful and impressively unconstitutional ways and at the time is likely to shorten the lives of many by dramatically degrading the quality of and real access to health care for hundreds of millions. Good stuff.

  10. I wouldn’t worry about Our Frog, Scientific Socialist. The implications of his government = collectivism = rewards program analogy reach absurdity very quickly. Much like saying that because religions have moral ideas, moral ideas = religion, period.

    I don’t think fuster really believes that the collectivist tendencies of people who get government power ought to just be accepted as the nature of the beast. If the collectivizers were proposing to prevent all abortions and roust gays out of their homes for public execution, he’d probably be at the front of the line to insist that government shouldn’t have that power over the people.

    It’s WHAT the collectivizers of the left want to do that he doesn’t object to, and therefore finds to be a natural consequence of “government,” qua government.

    His argument is specious. The whole point of America is that the people who gain government power need NOT be ceded a collectivizing authority over our lives. That’s our national proposition. No one gets to just assume the opposite without challenge.

    • While elsewhere, Supercilious Frog assured the 4 souls who visit elsewhere that Iran posed no real danger.

      You see, he knows about this stuff, so Iran is about as dangerous as maybe some bad cannibus at a bongo party.

      The logic goes something like this: For all the noise and jumbing about, neither N. Korea nor Iran have actually nuked anybody, therefore they will never nuke anybody, especially since we have able diplomats like Madeline and Hillary on top of it with nonstop gabbing.

      The only problem with frog’s droll equanimity? What happens when we find that Froggies droll assurances are no better than Neville C’s? What cost does he pay when hundreds of thousands of dead innocents show up?

      • You need to read the poor froggies croakings with greater care.

        I’ve never said that the Iranians pose no danger. What I’ve constantly said is that the Iranians are malicious and determined to expand and that they pose a great deal of danger.

        Perhaps you’ve misunderstood when I’ve asserted that the Iranians aren’t likely to attempt to explode a nuclear weapon in Israel 15 minutes after they develop one.

        I do not like the Iranian regime one bit, but I do not think that they possess super powers. They are nasty, but fundamentally weak in terms of conventional military capability.

  11. Jeepers, Kid, you don’t even know the main priority in our political system. It’s Life before Liberty.

    And you’ve not the faintest glimmer as to whether or not I object to various aspects or actions of big government. You assume quite incorrectly and baselessly my position on abortion among other things.

    However, the point stands. You continue to assume all sorts of silliness and carp out long bits of ill-concieved objection based on what you think that Obama thinks instead of what his administration can be shown to be doing.

    Analysis is fair to worthless sans evidentiary base.

    I mean, can you see fit to agree with Freddy Maitland’s charge ascribed to Cnut and Edward the Confessor of “reckless liberality” in what he perceives to be their failure to enforce and thus preserve for the Crown the rights wielded by their predecessors.

    • Analysis schmanalysis.

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