‘You didn’t build that,’ conservative style

With Obamacare in shambles and President Obama proposing his newest one-year plan to fix it, Republicans are experiencing a moment of schadenfreude. That’s understandable, but focusing on the Democrats’ failures will not lead the Republicans to success. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) understands this, and he is busy trying to articulate the Republican vision for America. Unfortunately, while the senator’s fans may view him as a champion of free enterprise, Lee’s vision isn’t fundamentally different from the president’s.

We know what President Obama’s vision is. America is a welfare state in which wealth and prosperity don’t come from free individuals working hard to improve their lives and be happy. They come from society. “No single person can train all the math and science teachers,” or “build the roads and networks and research labs,” said the president in his second inaugural address. Instead, “we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.”

This is the vision of “you didn’t build that.” Everyone built it. And if everyone built it — if “one nation and one people” are responsible for it — then why should you get to keep it? We know the left’s answer: you shouldn’t. Hence, businessmen, the wealthy — the hated “1 percent” — are castigated for their wealth, taxed to the hilt, and called upon to “give back.”

It is the vision of Obamacare. When the government is making medical and insurance decisions for “one nation and one people,” why would your desire to keep your own policy matter?

For the president and his allies, the essence of America is not individualism, but a mushy form of collectivism. Did you get good grades and major in something marketable? Did you work hard for that year-end bonus? Did you risk everything to build a successful business? You didn’t earn that! You are not ultimately responsible for your success, “we” are. And as “our” agent, the government’s job is to spread the fruits of your labors throughout society in the form of taxes, subsidies, and entitlements.

So what is Sen. Lee’s vision? A ringing endorsement of the American spirit of independence and productivity? Hardly.

“The United States did not formally launch our war on poverty in 1964, but in 1776,” the senator said at a recent Heritage Foundation poverty forum. Since then it “has waged the most successful war on poverty in the history of the world” by becoming the wealthiest nation on earth.

Really? American colonists fought the most powerful nation on earth as a precursor to a mid-20th century welfare program? Would it be too much to expect a simple “you did build that” from a senator put in office by the Tea Party? Apparently so.

“For all America’s reputation for individualism and competition, our nation has from the beginning been built on a foundation of community and cooperation.” Our political system is distinctive, according to Lee, not because it recognizes that we are independent individuals, but because it assumes that we are all dependent on one another. “Freedom means ‘we’re all in this together.’ The conservative vision for America is not an Ayn Rand novel. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting, or a Frank Capra movie: a nation ‘of plain, ordinary kindness, and a little looking out for the other fellow, too.’”

In short, the essence of America is … togetherness?