Somewhere in one of Barack Obama's campaign speeches this election year, like a piece of barbed wire in an otherwise light and puffy soufflé of empty platitudes, was this remarkable comment:
"If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
There are certain phrases, like this one, so memorable that they come to stand for the whole of a speech. Indeed for a whole attitude, for the whole spirit of a man and maybe of an age. For instance: "Give me liberty or give me death!" "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Or, in our own, less elevated time: "I never had sexual relations with that woman."
Yes, the president's speech also included a grudging tribute here and there to free enterprise, the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinkers in general, but it was clear all that was just lip service. There was no mistaking his general drift -- to the decided left.
Barack Obama's whole attitude was unmistakable to anyone game enough to plow through his long, wordy speech. Between liberty and equality, those two poles in the never ceasing tug-of-war over the meaning of America and the American dream, the president's tilt was clear. His speech was about as fair and unbalanced as Fox News--only in the opposite direction.
No wonder that single quote lit up the Internet. It inflamed the president's critics and reduced his defenders to the kind of long and tendentious explanations that don't really explain, and leave even those making them sounding defensive.
Soon enough these remarks of the president's will be offset by another of his appeals to American business to invest more, hire more workers and create more jobs. Even while he is proposing to tax businessmen more and wrap them ever more tightly in red tape. He seems completely unaware of all the contradictions he's wandered into, as if he had only been speaking, not thinking.
It was all enough to make his more appalled listeners wonder if this president understands how a free economy works. Or a free country.
Barack Obama was something of an unknown quantity when we elected him president. For many of us, it was enough to know he wasn't George W. Bush.
Now, almost four years later, Mr. Cool seems to have grown even more distant and detached. And the longer he speaks, the less we seem to know him -- or he us.
But there's no mistaking our president's tendency to dismiss the importance of the individual and celebrate the power of the collective: "We rise and fall together as one nation, and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for president because I still believe in that idea...."