On January 3rd, just after Meet the Press, NBC-TV broadcast a radio address by President Obama and while I have become nearly completely pessimistic, even cynical, about expecting anything uplifting from politicians these days — I think there could be some and have been a very few — I listened to the whole message. I never quite foreclose the possibility that people will change course, improve, gain new insights, and otherwise depart from their bad habits. Yes, the governmental habit is so pervasive that this expectation does appear pollyannaish to many of my friends, still I never quite give up hope in human beings. And there were a few elements in the president's talk that I found somewhat agreeable. It was probably accidental, I admit, but even that is better than nothing.
In particular Mr. Obama called for unity among Americans in their commitment to fight terrorism and to weather hard economic times. Moreover, the call sounded like he meant for us to stand up against the bad guys of our own accord, to volunteer to do so, to come together as free men and women. Yes, it sounded like he meant for us to take care to thwart terrorist efforts with courage, tenacity, and attentiveness of our own. And to come up with ways to meet the current economic challenges as a matter of our own initiative, to figure out ways to cope and overcome.
This kind of call makes room for both, individual and special efforts, the kind that cannot easily be generalized except for one thing — all are efforts in the right direction but using possibly quite different approaches. That is quite fitting in a free country. Trust people to figure out what they need to do to get ahead instead of regimenting them to follow a one-size-fits-all method. For some this may mean saving for others spending more, as an example. For some it may mean staying around the house, for others getting out. And so forth and so on, as many ways as there are people, perhaps, just to so long as they do make the effort to solve their problems. Urging Americans this way amounts to the sort of leadership that's fitting for free men and women.
Unfortunately so many of Mr. Obama's policies are quite different in both spirit and substance from such appreciation of human diversity. In this country perhaps more than in any other, acknowledging the enormous differences among us is absolutely indispensable to forging proper public policy. The American Founders showed this by their example when they identified the public good in America as the principled adherence to and protection of every individual's basic rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Beyond this very general idea of the public good there is very little that is really good for everyone the same way, in the same measure, at the same time.
But instead of carrying on this revolutionary tradition in pursuing the public good, the country's politicians have reverted to the ways of early European monarchs who set out to determine what all their subjects must do and forced them to do it — be this in matters of religion, science, the arts, commerce or whatnot. So when it comes to health insurance, for example, Mr. Obama and his team insist that what they cook up must be followed by everyone — so much so as to make it a matter of law for everyone to purchase insurance, never mind their individual circumstances, their age, health, goals, etc. No, instead we all have to follow one vision. And this is so with other projects as well — education, environmental policy, scientific research and the rest.
It did, however, give me, at least, a bit of satisfaction to hear Mr. Obama sound as if for once he recognized that any sort of unity in this country, one that once aspired to be genuinely free, has to be voluntary, just as the beautiful music produced by a choir or orchestra or jazz band, while a result of the cooperation of many, many individuals, must come from free choice and not from orders above.
Maybe Mr. Obama will heed this part of his message, although I doubt it.
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