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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reagan/Obama 1984

I wrote this a few days ago.  I was waiting for someone else to make this point, but no one did. 
It's a bit lengthy, but I think worth the read.

Reagan/Obama 1984
Sam Ritter

As I read and listened to the comments following President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, it became obvious that the concerted effort to seem more Reaganesque had succeeded.  Following news reports that he had put Reagan on his reading list and then submitted an editorial on Reagan to USA Today, it was expected that the President would try to hit the sunny side of America - Reagan style.  The commentators made this the central theme of the post speech discussion.  Time magazine photoshopped President Obama with an apparently, approving Reagan for its cover.  But was Barack Obama channeling Ronald Reagan or something very different?
            President Reagan often proclaimed an optimistic future for America. As he would say, it was morning in America.  His presidency, not unlike others, was heavily draped in patriotic colors.  But it has become clear that some Americans have misunderstood this patriotism.  In fact, functioning patriotism has come to be an elusive enigma that seems to leave some on the left groping in the dark.  They have proclaimed taxes patriotic, but decry the patriotic glory of everyday Americans taking pride in the accomplishments of their fellow citizens during the Olympics.  They disparage our founders and are ashamed of those espousing American exceptionalism.  They wish to educate our children of all the wrongs ever perpetuated by America, but seek to bypass all the good that has come to exist because of her.
            In the past I never understood why they seemed so inept at showing patriotism, but now it seems they’ve let their slip show.  They, along with our President, either have no idea what patriotism is or they do, and have absolutely no need for it.  The SOTU, protestations otherwise was not a patriotic address – it was a nationalistic address.  Therein lays the danger.
            The patriotism/nationalism dichotomy has always been difficult for some to comprehend.  For some, overt patriotism would lead to nationalism, it was feared.  But that shows a basic failure to understand the underlying nature of the concepts.  Perhaps some have been distracted by the principle of American exceptionalism, which holds that the nature of America’s founding and the documents and ideals that have formed our nation are unique, i.e. exceptional.  Many misunderstand and believe this to mean that some feel that Americans are a better, more exceptional people than those of other nations.  This is of course, far from the truth.
            While both patriotism and nationalism are centered on our attitude and feelings toward our nation, they are very different.  They represent two sides of the same coin as they relate the citizenry toward the state. Patriotism is about pride – pride in the nation, pride in our fellow citizens, pride in accomplishments without a loss of self, whereas nationalism is about submission – pieces in a cog working for the greater good, submitting their own desires toward the collective, marked by a self-less devotion.  Often there will be an overlap between the two, which can be seen most clearly during martial events.  During WWII, patriotic Americans heeded the national call for sacrifice, while the German people surely felt a sense of patriotic pride following military victories.  But at the core, they retain differences.
            At times, the left has revealed how they truly feel about America.  Remember when Michelle Obama said, “And let me tell you something -- for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.”  In the absence of pride, there is no patriotism.  Without a patriotic pride in America, there is no reverence for the nature and history of America.  When nothing of America’s past is sacred and honored, the only way forward is to remake America into what you want it to be.  During the 2008 campaign, we heard both Obamas talk about how the world “as it is just isn’t good enough” and fighting for the world “as it should be”.
            In his address, Obama called upon us to realize our Sputnik moment, and then proceeded to “launch” into a list of “investments” for the greater good.  Children must go to college because our nation needs them to have a college degree.  We must move forward as a nation to beat the Chinese in solar panels and win the green revolution.  We will lose the future without high speed rail.  It all sounded like the normal boilerplate we hear in these types of speeches, but was it?
            Sputnik put fear in Americans, not because it showed that we were behind technologically or commercially to the Soviets, but because we feared that it put us at a disadvantage militarily and thus mortally.  When JFK called on America to go boldly where no man has gone before, it wasn’t because he wanted to ride the technological wave of the future.  He, along with many Americans feared a militarization of space – armed satellites ready to rein destruction on us from above.  For the protection of America, he stated a goal and made it clear that America would accomplish what it set out to do.  Because this was a matter of national defense, it was a task for the federal government.
            Watch the movie “The Right Stuff” based on the novel by Tom Wolfe and you will see the rugged individuals who came to epitomize the early days of NASA.  Life and death were on the line for our first “space voyagers” much as it was on the line for America as we entered the Space Race with the Soviets.  To compare our perceived deficiency in solar panels or high speed rail to the Chinese with these events is beyond believability.
            Yet, there was our president telling us we need to “Win The Future™”, by circumventing our capitalist system and throwing our efforts to the state in order to succeed in the marketplace of the future.  By his reasoning, I’m amazed that America has survived to the present, unless my history is off and Eli Whitney worked for the Department of the Interior.  Or were John Fulton and Henry Ford working for the Federal Transportation Authority?  Is it too much to think that Samuel Colt was part of the ATF?  I’m not sure which area of the Federal government Steve Jobs worked in as he developed the iPOD.  To understand where Obama is wrong is to understand when and where the state should have primacy.  In matters of national defense, it should.  In matters of commerce, it should not.  It is understood that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government directive to regulate, but it does not have primacy and should only interfere with the open marketplace as a last resort, whereas “provide for the common defence” is a stated federal obligation found in the preamble.
            In truth, America succeeds because of our open marketplace, where good ideas flourish and bad ideas are quickly and mercilessly destroyed.  Many can recall the state of fear that believed Japan’s lead in the electronic age was going to leave us behind?  Even when America does not lead the way, our open market allows American innovation to improve and market these ideas and succeed. If an idea is worthy, it will succeed in the market and if not, it will fail miserably as it should.  In the government bureaucracy an idea may continue to be pursued regardless of any future success.
Certainly some good ideas develop from government research, but often they are inadvertent successes.  The basic framework for the internet was developed as a defense project.  Many innovations have developed from NASA, but as side effects, so to speak.  Among these are freeze drying, solar energy, portable cordless vacuums, Light-emitting diodes (LED) and Tempur foam.  What this shows is that in any properly funded research and development department, good ideas will come, often in unexpected forms.  But this does not show that the state is the best place for research.  The government beast makes for a highly inefficient laboratory with no true mechanism for harvesting the good or ridding the bad.  At this point in time, NASA is a mess of a bureaucracy filled with red-tape, whose once tightly focused mission has become so scattershot that it is no longer able to complete its primary goal of sending Americans into space, but must pay to hitch a ride with the Russians.  By raising the specter of Sputnik, the irony of NASA’s current failures could not be made clearer.
            Yet despite what was made clear by his allusion, the President called for Americans to put more of our private sector and research under the control and direction of the state and asked the American people to rally together toward our common good as dictated by him.  Thus lays the heart of the leftists’ nationalism.  For those who think of Mussolini or Hitler, Obama’s is not a militant nationalism.  No, this movement flows from leftist, social justice thinkers who believe America needs to be liberated; liberated not from some external enemy, but from the enemy within – free market capitalism.  Obama seeks to accomplish this from the top down, but others seek the same from the bottom up.  We’ve seen this recently in the call by Francis Fox Piven for mass protests and riots among the working class.  Our open markets are the oppressor that must be vanquished.  This way forward is with the mass of nameless, faceless “oppressed” in open rebellion.  Both directions seek to suppress the will of the individual to the group.  This is a radical departure for a nation founded upon the virtues of the individual and the general will identified in liberal nationalism as originally espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  In his writings, Rousseau claimed that citizens constrained to obey the general will are free.  He emphasized that the general will exists to protect individuals against the mass, not to require them to be sacrificed to it
Taking their cue from him, the founders formed a nation of individuals called to a joined purpose of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; a general will that leaves them free to follow the path of their own choosing.  Obama now seeks to call us for joined goals through singular means – individuals need not apply, as we must sacrifice ourselves for the common good.  By invoking Reagan, Obama sought to put a happy, patriotic face on left-wing/Marxist nationalism and make it more palatable to the people.  By their reactions, this has worked with the mainstream press. Thus far it has failed with the people.  With the advent of the Tea Parties, there is a renewed interest in the founders and perhaps as the public becomes more aware of federal encroachment, it can be restrained or even pulled back.
But the leftist, like an expert chess player sees several steps ahead.  If you’ve ever wondered why the leftists seek out a crisis, it is because of this – the American people are willing to humble themselves for the public good and pull together during a crisis, whether war, disaster, terrorism attack, etc. because that is part of our nation’s social contract.  In that moment, our civic nationalism becomes exploitable and that is exactly where Barack Hussein Obama wants us.  Only in the Orwellian world found in the aptly titled “1984” would it be anything other than reprehensible that this man could ever be compared to Ronald Wilson Reagan.

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