Pogo the Possum, Obama Speak, and Self-Government

In his recent address to Ohio State University, Obama had some interesting comments to make about his version of “self”-government. Many conservatives have focused on the part of his speech where he said:

Unfortunately, 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 do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.

Conservatives picked these lines out of the mix because they show very clearly that Obama is playing (and trying to protect) Big Brother. But there is a twist. If you listen to the context, you also hear some oddly reassuring words. Many people who may have been put off by Obama’s obviously self-serving rejection of the distrust of government were then quickly given a little fantasy consolation in the near-Jeffersonian call to “self-government.” Here’s the context:

. . . 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.

We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems. We shouldn’t want to. But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. And as citizens, 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.

Did you see what he did there? This is a classic example of “Obama speak.” The government is not some distant menace because, through the magic of “democracy,” the government is actually you and me. According to Obama, we shouldn’t fear the government any more than we fear ourselves. Furthermore, to say you fear the government is to say that our forefathers’ “experiment” was a failure (I bet he thought that would really get the American Christian heritage people all knotted up). By using the word “experiment,” Obama invoked the words of Washington’s First Inaugural address: “. . . and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people . . .”

Just to be clear, in case you had any doubts, when Obama says “self-rule” and “self-government,” he is absolutely not talking about individual responsibility and self-control. He is not talking about the same self-government that the Founding Fathers believed was essential to the preservation of our “republic.” No. He is channeling the originally dubious and increasingly incorrect supposition that “We the people” are the government. So that the work and voice of the government is the work and voice of the American “self.” Again, you have nothing to fear from the civil government because the civil government is you! The thing is, Obama (following Lincoln’s very hip “For Us By Us” designer government lie) has changed the experiment. Notice that Washington believed he was handing over a “republican [not democratic] model of government” to the people. The experimental part was whether or not the people could actually keep it a republic. We couldn’t. Obviously. In other words, the “experiment” in “self-rule” has already failed because the people were not willing or able to resist its devolvement into pure democracy and tyranny (which always go hand in hand, by the way). It’s already, in Obama’s words, a “sham.”

I’ve got to hand it to him though. This is brilliant rhetoric. It sounds like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and JFK had a little speech-writer baby who grew up, learned doublespeak, and started working in Oceania. And though Obama has totally redefined the Founding Fathers’ idea of self-government and replaced it with his own brand of civil slavery, he is right about one thing. It is true that the civil government has become the voice of America’s democratic self. It is true we’ve elected people who will do the will of the majority rather than abide by the letter and spirit of the law of the land. Does that mean we shouldn’t be distrustful of the civil government? Because it is following the ever-putrefying caprices of the majority? On the contrary! This is in fact the very reason we should be distrustful. In the immortal words of Pogo the Possum, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”