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Obama Misses the Point – Twice

Barack Obama, constitutional law professor, State Senator, President of the US, has goofed again. Not about anything terribly important, like foreign policy or oil spills, just about the fundamental nature of government, specifically ours. In a speech to the graduates of the University of Michigan, Obama took time to lecture the new bachelors about government. Problem is, he got it all wrong.

During the speech, he used the word “democracy” to describe our form of government fifteen times. Even after relating the story about Benjamin Franklin, he continued to mischaracterize our government fourteen more times. For those of you who don’t remember, the story is as follows: On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was famously asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” And Franklin gave an answer that’s been quoted for ages: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Apparently, the anointed one’s hubris knows no bounds when even Benjamin Franklin cannot teach him. I assume that at some point, even Obama has said the Pledge of Allegiance.  We all remember the part that goes,  “and to the Republic, for which it stands.” I can state firmly, without fear of contradiction, that the government of the US is a republic, and not a democracy. Aristotle taught us years ago that a democracy was nothing but a corrupted republic. God willing, we haven’t reached that point yet, and never will.  Although there is at least one constitutional lawyer that won’t recognize it if we do.

We are, however often beset by demagogues like Huey Long, and in some people’s opinion the current occupant of the White House. They are the people who claim that more and more government is the answer, as long as they are the government. Point in case, Obama’s speech to the graduates. He said at one point, “But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad.” And I suppose that is what troubles me the most. The problem is that government is inherently bad. When government acts, it only acts to restrict someone’s freedom. Government is essentially a liberty limiting structure.

Which is not to say that it is not necessary. In a perfect world, where everyone acted perfectly, there would be no need for government. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world. We live in a world of criminals and conmen, opportunists and politicians. Government is necessary, but it remains a necessary evil. Which is why our founding fathers gave us a republic and not a democracy. It is easier to keep a republic in check than a mob, which is what a democracy is: rule by mob, from the Greek demos, or mob.

What more needs to be said than two government actions this past week.  First, in a move that only Kafka could really love, the Santa Clara, California county supervisors banned the distribution of Happy Meal toys. “This ordinance does not attack toys. Obviously, toys, in and of themselves, do not make children obese,” said county Supervisor Ken Yeager, who pushed for the ban. “But it is unfair to parents and children to use toys to capture the tastes of children when they are young to get them hooked on eating high-sugar, high-fat foods early in life.” The ban, which faces a final vote next month, would prohibit restaurants from giving away an incentive item, like a toy, with a meal that contains more than 485 calories, more than 600 milligrams of sodium and excessive amounts of fat and sugars.

The supervisors apparently believe that parents are incapable of raising their own children, and they can do a better job of it. They must also believe that they are nutritional scientists, seeing as how they manage to come up with caloric guidelines that they deem suitable. Yeager said the aim is to help direct parents to more healthy choices. Thank god government is looking out for us! Yet to do it, they limit liberty, which is the natural and unavoidable concomitant of regulation.

The other action that was in the news was the introduction of a bill by a New York assemblyman. He wants his state to become the first in the nation to pass laws that would presume people want to donate their organs unless they specifically say otherwise. In other words, when you get a driver’s license, the state says you have agreed to donate your organs. The state would make a presumption that they have an interest in the disposition of your body. You would be forced to fight the state if you didn’t want your body disposed of by bureaucrats. Now, organ donation is a fine and noble thing, but when the government makes a presumption about your bodily integrity it limits your liberty. It also makes me wonder about who actually owns my body.

The upshot is, no matter what Obama says, that we are not a democracy but a republic. And again, his opinion notwithstanding, government is evil, albeit necessary. If Barack needs an explanation, I’ll be glad to offer him one.

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