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.
They invested in their country not by paying exorbitant taxes to a central government, but by making sure their children learned -- first and foremost in their own homes -- the great history and traditions of our civilization and our nation. The passed along, by personal example, the virtues needed to sustain civilization from one generation to the next.
They took a great country and made it greater.
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in 2010 published a report, written by economists Thomas A. Garrett, Andrew Kozak and Russell Rhine, that pointed to something remarkable that happened in the first 140 years the U.S. Constitution was in force: The nation grew, but the federal government didn't.
"For example," the report said, "annual federal government per capita spending averaged $125 from 1792 to 1929 with no trend increase." (This is in constant 2000 dollars.) By 2007, it had jumped to $9,200.
When the Constitution was ratified, the report said, there were only four Cabinet departments: State, Treasury, Justice and Defense. By the end of the 19th century, only two more had been added: Interior and Agriculture.
In the 20th century, another 10 were added: Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency and Homeland Security.
So, when Obama told his campaign contributors in Palm Beach Gardens that today's Americans needed "to invest in the future the same way that our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents invested in the future," did he mean it?
Of course not.
Obama has coined a new and fraudulent meaning for "invest." It is when government takes and spends someone else's money.
In that same speech at Palm Beach Gardens, Obama boasted that "we expanded clean energy investments like no previous administration."
"But there are certain things we have to do," he said, "whether it's investments in education, or basic science and research, or caring for the most vulnerable among us and creating an effective safety net."
These are things "we have to do," Obama explained, "because we can't do it on our own."
To complement the new meaning he has given the word "invest," Obama has also given a new meaning to the word "spend." It is when government allows someone to keep their own money.
In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama said "we can't afford to keep spending more money on tax cuts."
To be fair, Obama completed this sentence by saying "for the wealthiest Americans who don't need them and didn't even ask for them."
Yet, given how Obama defines "invest" and "spend," it is fair to assume he will soon redefine "the wealthiest Americans." They will be people who get up in the morning and go to work.
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