by Brad Todd
The Marlboro man is dead, and it wasn’t tobacco that killed him. It was Barack Obama’s recent commencement speech at Ohio State University.
Before Rachel Maddow strokes out, I’m not alleging Obama murdered any of the mustachioed models in the 1970s Philip Morris advertisements. Instead, Obama killed the cowboy archetype that has symbolized the ethic of rugged American individualism since the country’s first decades.
In the wake of the Benghazi coverup, the IRS scandal, and extra-Constitutional fundraising by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, this administration’s unprecedented belief in all-powerful government is now obvious to every American.
But the intellectual roots of Obama’s heresy regarding our national identity are evident in his formal speeches. At Ohio State, Obama went beyond a defense of government power and eviscerated the premise of America’s economic engine.
Obama said “we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition,” turning upside down the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” doctrine that American leaders from Thomas Jefferson hence have agreed would lead to great things.
Unlike nearly every American President before him, the re-elected Obama does not pay homage to the vintage bootstraps paragon, as his “you didn’t build that” speech in Roanoke in 2011 foretold.
Instead of painting a modernized enunciation of the 18th century American consensus melded from Englightenment concepts of liberty’s inevitable outcome, Obama offers nothing more than caveats on liberty. He told the Ohio State graduates “we are blessed with God-given and inalienable rights, but with those rights come responsibilities.” For this re-elected Obama, Americans are not bound together by shared belief in self-determination but by shared “commitments” to society.
The real news in Obama’s Ohio State commencement collectivism is not its place on the ideological spectrum – surely that’s lost its shock value – but its intentional revision of the intellectual underpinnings of the republic. In Columbus, Obama cited the founders multiple times and deliberately attempted to graft his communal lens onto their Lockean worldview. Obama told the graduates the founders left us with “the power to adapt to changing times,” as direct a rebuke to the whole notion of “self-evident truths” as is imaginable.
The recent Columbus stump was not the first time Obama has used a graduation speech to paint a canvas for collective action and a robust role for government.
At a University of Michigan commencement in 2010, Obama was still a traveler searching for his collectivist certainty. There, before launching into an apology for his big government ideology that was nearly identical to his Columbus thesis, Obama granted voice to the other side of the divide. He acknowledged that since 1776 Americans “have cherished and fiercely defended our individual freedom” and called it “a strand of our nation’s DNA.” He listed instances, like a generation of welfare dependency, in which government had failed.
Of his critics, Obama said in 2010: “They argue that government intervention is usually inefficient; that it restricts individual freedom and dampens individual initiative. And in certain instances, that’s been true.”
Today, that acknowledgement is nowhere to be found in Obama’s valedictory. The re-elected Obama has either lost his appetite for Socratic debate or he finds intellectual respect for the previous 230 years of American political thought unnecessary for a second-term President.
Obama even rebukes the lion of modern liberalism by hopelessly, and namelessly, warping John Kennedy’s call to patriotism. Obama, in Columbus, said “America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together…”
For this President, at this time, the ultimate act of patriotism is an act of supplication to government while individual ambition is disconnected from goodness or achievement.
The first line of the Declaration of Independence accepted the necessity “in the course of human events…for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” That part, at least, the President still believes.
Brad Todd is a Republican admaker, strategist and founder of OnMessage Inc., the agency that helped elect Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Ron Johnson, Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Scott Brown, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Gov. Matt Meade and 21 Republican Congressmen.