One of the least remarked upon aspects of President Obama’s inaugural speech was his attempt to co-opt the Founding Fathers’ Declaration of Independence to bolster his liberal-left agenda.
Sure, the president quoted one of the most important sentences in world history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So far, so good. But he later connected the Declaration with his own liberal agenda: “… that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedom ultimately requires collective action.” (My italics, not his.)
He fleshed this out with his trademark class-warfare, income-leveling rationalizations. Such as: “The shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” He also talked about “our wives, mothers, and daughters that earn a living equal to their effort.” He followed that up with, “The wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.”
Here’s what I take away from all this: Mr. Obama is arguing counter to the Founding Fathers that the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of equality of results, not equality of opportunity, and that he will do what he can to use government to make everybody more equal in terms of their income and life work.
That is exactly wrong. We should be rewarding success. We should be promoting entrepreneurship. We should be encouraging individual effort and opportunity.
But this was no opportunity speech. This was a redistributionist, income-leveling speech. And it completely missed the point the Founding Fathers made some 237 years ago.
They were talking about equality of opportunity, not equality of results. Theirs was a declaration of freedom, not of government power or authority.
In fact, the Declaration of Independence was written expressly to begin a revolution against the autocratic monarchs of England, who used their government authority to tax, regulate, and oppress the colonists without any representation or voting rights, thus denying them the unalienable rights of liberty.
So while Obama was on the one hand preaching “fidelity to our founding principles,” on the other he was saying that preserving our individual freedom ultimately requires collective action.
Collective action? The Founders were talking about individual liberty and rights. Not the power of a collectivist government.
The “collective” is a socialist idea, not a free-market capitalist thought. And the story of the last quarter of the 20th century was of the absolute breakdown and end of the collectivist model. Collectivism was thrown into the dustbin of history by the weight of its own failure.
To me, Obama’s mistaken opinions regarding the Declaration of Independence, and his total lack of understanding of the thinking behind the Declaration, is more troubling than any of the liberal programmatic proposals he set forth. Fundamentally, you have to wonder if the president really understands the American idea, and the American historical experience, beginning with the great wisdom of the Founders.
Collectivism also means “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” During his second inaugural speech, Obama actually said, “We do not believe in this country that freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.” Were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates lucky? Was Henry Ford lucky? Was Thomas Edison just lucky?
How about they used their God-given talents of creativity, imagination, and ingenuity, coupled with hard work, to create commercial ventures that financially empowered millions upon millions of people who were then able to live a better and more comfortable life?
That’s what the Founders had in mind. Freedom.
It was bad enough that the president had nothing to say about economic growth, or excess federal spending, deficits, and debt. Nor did he show any interest in reforming the large entitlement programs that may bankrupt America. He did discuss the energy market. But rather than let market forces determine the most efficient and clean energy sources to power our economy, he insisted on more doomed green-energy projects subsidized by the taxpayer (like Solyndra).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell likened Obama’s speech to a declaration of the end of the era of small government. “One thing is clear from the president’s speech,” he said. “The era of liberalism is back.” I agree.
But again I say it’s Obama’s misunderstanding of the Founders’ intent that is the most troubling. Equality of opportunity is the American ideal. Equality of results and income-leveling is foreign to the American ideal.
As conservatives and Republicans regroup, and as they seek to achieve a better America, I hope they keep the opportunity principle uppermost in their minds.
Larry Kudlow is the host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report.”