"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:
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.
Back then, a wandering French soldier of fortune named Crevecoeur, who would have a checkered career as diplomat and essayist on two continents, would win a place in American letters and history by writing his "Letters From an American Farmer" with its idyllic vision of that American dream.
Crevecoeur's thesis: From the moment an immigrant steps foot on American soil, he is transformed: "This great metamorphosis ... extinguishes all his European prejudices; he forgets that mechanism of subordination, that servility of disposition which poverty has taught him."
The new immigrant becomes a new man, a free man, an American. Or as Crevecoeur's fictional farmer declares, "The instant I enter on my own land, the bright idea of property, of exclusive right, of independence exalt the mind."
Yes, all that may be something of a myth, but myths make the man. And the society. If we believe ourselves to be unique, independent, able to determine our own fate, we become unique, independent and our own masters. Just as the opposite is true: If an all-powerful State believes it can make better economic decisions than millions acting of their own accord in a free market, well, good luck. For the best-laid plans of mice and social planners, to borrow a line from Robert Burns, gang aft a-gley.
Our eloquent president returned to his own country last week to survey the fast emerging results of his zest for centralized planning. Or rather the non-results. His great reform of American medical care, dubbed Obamacare in his honor, had missed still another deadline. This time it was the deadline for enforcing the tax/fine on businesses that fail to comply with Obamacare by submitting the required mountain of paperwork.
Accountants, executives and employees of those businesses in general were being asked to fill out the kind of forms that surpass all understanding, which may be the only thing they have in common with the peace of God. It seems our community organizer-in-chief doesn't organize very well.
The millions of American businesses affected by this provision of Obamacare now have received a year's reprieve. But what about the rest of us who must deal with Obamacare's complicated choices, criteria and all too vague requirements? Don't we deserve a year's delay, too?
Couldn't we just put off enforcing this law for a while -- like forever? Simply by repealing the whole mess. And starting from scratch in hopes of designing a workable system to insure the uninsured.
One of Obamacare's architects, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, now has called it an approaching train wreck, though it might be more accurate to describe it as a gigantic example of Rube Goldberg engineering that seems headed nowhere at the moment except more delay and confusion.
Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian economist who wrote a little book called "The Road to Serfdom," put it this way: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."