Paul Greenberg
Speaking in Capetown, South Africa, our president did himself and the United States of America proud. This is what he told his hosts, among other uplifting things:

"And for America, this isn't just about numbers on a balance sheet or the resources that can be taken out of the ground. We believe that societies and economies only advance as far as individuals are free to carry them forward. ... Now, ultimately, I believe that Africans should make up their own minds about what serves African interests. We trust your judgment, the judgment of ordinary people. We believe that when you control your destiny, if you've got a handle on your governments, then governments will promote freedom and opportunity, because that will serve you."

Hear, hear. Governments exist to serve the people, not the other way around. Governments, at least the worst kind, seem to believe the people exist to serve them. They've got things reversed.

. .

Bertolt Brecht once wrote a little ditty along those lines, but it was so apropos that the Stalinist regime he'd embraced in East Germany wouldn't let his poem be published:

The Solution

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers' Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

. .

Barack Obama's approach, at least the one he embraced in Africa, is much preferable. It rings true to the theory expressed in this country's Declaration of Independence, whose 237th anniversary we just celebrated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed....

Our current president is so eloquent abroad. Imagine how popular and effective he might be if he stressed those same themes here at home -- freedom, opportunity, letting people determine their own destiny instead of some distant bureaucracy making our decisions for us. In short, the American Dream.

If only this president would uphold that shining vision here at home, too, he could be another Ronald Reagan, charting a new course that is really the old one on which these united states set out more than two centuries ago.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.