As commencement season winds down, it’s discomfiting to think that almost half of new graduates know exactly where they’re headed when school’s out: Back to their parents’ homes.
The Pew Research Center reports that 45 percent of college grads younger than 25 are “living with family.” That percentage is almost two-thirds higher than in 2001. But at least some grads got to listen to a cool speaker before they headed home to stare at faded posters of Barack Obama.
“You’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works,” President Obama warned students in a commencement address at Ohio State University. “They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”
There are two major problems with Obama’s analysis. First, Obama paints a false picture, in this speech and many others, when he makes it seem there are only two options: either you’re all alone in the world, or you rely on help from big government.
In fact, conservatives believe in many “little platoons” of voluntary, religious, and family organizations. “In between the individual and the state exists the vibrant realm of civil society where Americans join and form myriad associations, from families to churches to Rotary clubs,” Heritage’s David Azerrad explains. “In trying to rein in limitless liberalism, conservatives want to strengthen the real robust ties that bind us to one another and sever the flimsy ties of dependence on government.”
The second problem is that it isn’t conservatives who don’t trust people; it’s big government liberals. They push for programs such as Obamacare because they think panels of experts can make better health care decisions than you can. They want to determine what size car you may drive, what type of light bulb you may read by, even how large your dwelling should be and how much water you should use.
Obama adds: “We understand that it’s not about what America can do for us; it’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.” And indeed, the Constitution provides for self-government. But that doesn’t mean big government managed from Washington. In fact, the Constitution strictly limits the powers of the federal government, because the Founders understood that such limits were the best way to protect individual rights.
As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy explained earlier this year:
The genius of federalism is that it is wrong as an ethical matter, wrong as a moral matter, for you to delegate so much power over your own life to a remote central authority that you can no longer plan your own destiny and the destiny of your children. That is the moral and the ethical underpinning of federalism.
A smaller, less activist federal government would create space for today’s graduates to strive, achieve, and build a better world, as so many previous generations of Americans did. They wouldn’t be as certain where they would be going, but they’d know it would be “forward.”