President Barack Obama last week visited Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. -- a small city of 15 golf courses -- so he could preach to some of his humble campaign contributors his vision of American frugality.
"So if all of you are willing to invest in the future the same way that our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents invested in the future, I'm confident America's best days are still ahead," Obama said. "But we're going to have to work for it. We're going to have to earn it. And that's what this election will be all about."
Assuming the words Obama used here had their normal meaning, the president was making a stirring appeal to the traditional American values of individualism, diligence and self-reliance.
After all, Americans who are adults today and who had great-grandparents who lived in this country may have had great-grandparents who were pioneers.
Indeed, many Americans alive today had great-grandparents who lived much of their lives after ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, but before ratification of the 16th Amendment, which authorized the income tax.
These Americans were born and raised, and raised their own children, in a nation that paid benefits to Civil War veterans but had no federal welfare programs. In the America they knew, the Supreme Court had never declared that the Commerce Clause authorized the federal government to tell a farmer what he could or could not grow on his own land.
When these Americans "invested," even government officials still understood that word to carry the first meaning ascribed to it in Merriam-Webster's dictionary: "to commit (money) in order to earn a financial return."
Before our great-grandparents invested, they earned and they saved -- and what they earned and saved was protected by a Bill of Rights that says, "Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
That generation often invested their hard-earned savings in things they believed would build wealth for their children and their grandchildren. They bought land, so their children could be farmers. They built enterprises, so their children could run independent businesses. They sent their children to college -- with their own money -- so their children could be doctors and lawyers and teachers and engineers.