Ok, so maybe that’s not exactly what President Obama said during the commencement address he gave at Ohio State University this past weekend. The President’s exact words:
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 always lurking just around the corner. 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. And class of 2013, you have to be involved in that process.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up hearing voices that incessantly reminded me that government is “the people”, a wonderful magical entity that fixes all of our problems! Whether it was teachers, textbooks, tv shows or even well-meaning parents, most people my age were taught that we are the government, and the government is us.
We learned that without government, there would be no roads, no schools, no mail delivery, no
uncontaminated food, and no rainbows. I may have made one of those up, but the point remains. We were taught that our democratic government is the only thing keeping us safe from the “Hitlers” of the world.
In fact, we were taught that government was so great, that we even had to hold our hands over our hearts, and sing a pledge to it every single morning! Remember that?
No, the “anti-government voices” that the President is referring to are relatively new, and certainly not considered mainstream (yet). These voices are represented by all of the new libertarians, activists and bloggers that have emerged in recent years, thanks to a perfect storm of a government that has gotten so obviously overreaching along with a populace that is more informed than ever thanks to the internet, and helped along the way by a little inspiration from a septagenarian doctor from Texas.
It’s becoming more and more clear to people across the globe that we are not the government.
The President is (accidentally) correct when he calls for “self-government”. Of course, when President Obama says this, he really means “lots and lots of government”. True self government, where the rights of the individual to make decisions about how he spends his own money, who he associates with and what he puts in his body, is the highest human ideal. This is what the supposed “anti-government” voices are calling for.
The increased skepticism of government is a direct reflection of increased interest in the ideas of liberty. I have no doubt that young people – the “class of 2013” and beyond – will not only hear more of these ideas going forward, but will continue to become those voices.