The city of Charlotte’s convention motto this week is “We make it possible.” And who is this “we”?
Here’s the host committee’s answer: “Government is the only thing that we all belong to. We have different churches, different clubs, but we’re together as a part of our city, or our county, or our state, and our nation.”
What a dreary outlook. Government as our most important association. Every other association in our lives—family, church, Boy Scouts—separates us. Only government unites us.
Intentionally or not, the line echoes President Obama’s off-the-prompter remarks during a speech in Roanoke, Virginia, in July.
“[L]ook, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own,” the President said. “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Commentators have bent over backward to cover for these comments by insisting the President couldn’t have meant what he said. They’ve said that, taken in context, his remarks amount to a statement that individual business owners didn’t build the “roads, bridges, infrastructure, education, emergency services and law and order” that make it possible to run a business. Yet no one is arguing for eliminating roads and bridges.
But here’s what is being argued, both by Obama and again by the host committee: Government makes things happen—it’s the mother’s milk of human flourishing.
The perfect case in point is the “Julia” campaign, which traces a fictional woman’s life and ascribes all good things in it to federal—specifically Obama Administration—initiatives. In this world, Julia’s good life wasn’t built by her, or her parents, or her community, but by the government.
The audacity of this argument is rare. It was first advanced by Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, drawing on the work of Herbert Croly. TR’s frankness aside, progressives usually prefer to advance their ideology under the cloak of non-ideological pragmatism—liberals say they’re just doing “what works.”
But the tagline and the video combined with President Obama’s comment—“We make it possible” because “you didn’t build that”—reveal how limitless the progressive vision of government is.
If we’re really incapable of ruling ourselves, then we need government to bless and subsidize every decision we make and provide us with meaning in our lives. But if we are indeed self-governing citizens, then we grant government limited power to perform certain tasks clearly articulated in our founding documents, tasks that we as citizens and members of civil society cannot perform.