President Obama directly addressed critics today who accused him of trying to expand the size and scope of government. From the article:
After taking questions for an hour, the president concluded by attempting to dispel charges that he's a big-government president by design.
"I don't want to run auto companies. I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already -- I've got more than enough to do," he said. "So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be. We are in unique circumstances."
He said he's "amused" by charges that he wants to grow government.
"I want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy meddling in the private sector," Obama said.
"If you could tell me right now that when I walked into this office, that the banks were humming, the autos were selling and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran and a pandemic flu -- I would take that deal."
With regard to the auto sector, Obama said the federal government is intervening to help America's automakers survive and eventually become globally competitive.
While it is encouraging to hear the President say he would rather the government get out of the private sector under normal conditions, I would be more inclined to take him seriously if the government hadn't just acquired 8% of Chrysler as part of bankruptcy proceedings. And if Rahm "let no crisis go unexploited" Emmanuel wasn't his chief of staff. Incidentally, according to Open Secrets, Emmanuel "was the top House recipient in the 2008 election cycle of contributions from hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investment industry." But I digress.
Obama is missing the point. None of his critics care how much he is enjoying overseeing the dismantling of the last remnants of American capitalism. We care that he's doing it. The fact that he sees government intervention into the economy as necessary in times of crisis puts him philosophically at odds with Americans who love liberty and understand what it means.
This leads us to the fundamental questions that libertarians wish liberals would ask more often: Is government the part of society best equipped to deal with this problem? If so, is this a legitimate use of government power, i.e., does acting to solve this problem protect people's rights, or infringe upon them?
"The question we ask today is not whether government is too big or too small, but whether it works," said the President at his inauguration.
The President asked the wrong question. Let's say it turns out the the government is the most efficient institution for delivering health care, to pick one of the President's favorite projects. Does that mean the government should enter the healthcare business? By asserting that the primary qualification of a government program is whether it works, the President is skipping the more fundamental question: is this program a legitimate function of government?
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." Not "to provide for their material needs;" not "to protect the environment;" not "to provide cheap, high-quality healthcare," not "to conduct scientific research;" not "to define marriage as between one man and one woman;" not "to educate our children."
"To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men."
President Obama would do well to remember it.