Jewish World Review July 30, 2004 / 12 Menachem-Av, 5764
Robert W. Tracinski
The Bait-and-Switch Philosophy at the Collectivist Convention
What does America stand for? What are its founding ideas? In this
contentious election, each side is trying to convince us that its policies
and ideals are the answer to this question.
The Democrats have traditionally relies on a simple technique: appeal to the
values of American individualism, while actually selling the American people
the virtues of the all-powerful collective.
That is the theme that emerges from the first three nights of speeches at
the Democratic convention. Note the pattern of this bait-and-switch
Teresa Heinz Kerry says that "Americans believed that they could know all
there is to know, build all there is to build, break down any barrier, tear
down any wall.... Americans showed the world what can happen when people
believe in amazing possibilities. And, that, for me, is the spirit of
Freedom, self-confidence, a contempt for barriers and limits that certainly
is essential to the American character. But who, in Heinz Kerry's view, best
epitomizes these virtues? The inventor who develops a new product? The
entrepreneur who pioneers a new industry? The hard-working businessmen who,
in actual fact, "build all there is to build"? No. "To me, one of the best
faces America has ever projected is the face of a Peace Corps volunteer....
Those young people convey an idea of America that is all about heart and
creativity, generosity and confidence, a practical, can-do sense and a big,
This is an attempts to connect the American character to self-effacing
self-sacrifice. It's OK to be creative, confident, and have a "can-do"
manner so long as you devote yourself to digging irrigation ditches in the
Third World. But dare to pursue your own goals and seek to improve your
own life and you are no longer part of the American dream.
This contrast is most striking in Tuesday's keynote speech by Barack Obama,
who borrows some of his eloquence from Thomas Jefferson: "Our pride is based
on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred
years ago: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness.' That is the true genius of America."
But Obama goes too far and gives the whole game away. What does it mean to
believe that individuals have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness"? It means that each individual has to right to be free from
government interference and free to pursue his own happiness and well-being.
The Founders held an implicit ethics of rational self-interest. It was not
the alleged self-interest of a brute who lives by plundering his fellow man,
but "self-interest properly understood" to use the phrase popular at the
time which means a system of liberty, property rights, the rule of law, and
But Obama brushes all of this aside when he gives his recommendation of John
Kerry: "Our Party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this
country has to offer.... John Kerry understands the ideals of community,
faith, and service." How did we get from "life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness" to "community, faith, and service"? Obama provides no answer but
it is clear, by the end of the speech, which side of that contradiction is
winning in his mind:
"Alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the
American saga. A belief that we're all connected as one people.... It is
that fundamental belief I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's
keeper that makes this country work…. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one."
The man who made this technique most explicit was Ted Kennedy. Speaking
Tuesday night, he freely invoked Boston's Revolutionary War heritage. But
what, in his view, is that heritage? "Ideals like freedom and equality and
opportunity and fairness and common decency for all ideals that all
Americans yearn to reclaim."
"Equality" had a specific meaning to the Founders: equality of rights. It
meant that no class of aristocrats possessed special rights at the expense
of other citizens. They never endorsed egalitarianism. But you wouldn't
know that by listening to Ted Kennedy. Indeed, he cites, as the noblest
period in America's history, the Democrats' crusade for the welfare state.
"Time and again in America's history, we as Democrats have offered new
hope of a stronger, fairer, more prosperous future for all our people a
society that feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, and cares for the
sick so that none must walk alone."
The Democrats have been told that they must not seem "anti-American" in time
of war; that they have to try to capture the patriotic American "heartland";
that they have to be "optimistic" and "Reagan-esque." And so they tried to
appeal to American values and ideals all of which are implicitly based on
individualism. But they have to harness those value to their collectivist
agenda. Hence the following grotesque paragraph, from a crucial passage in
"It was no accident that Massachusetts was founded as a commonwealth, a
place where authority belongs not to a single ruler, but to the people
themselves, joined together for the common good. The old system was based on
inequality.... The colonists knew they could do better, just as we know we
can do better today but only if we all work together, only if we all reach
out together, only if we all come together for the common good.... America
is a compact, a bargain, a contract. It says that all of us are connected.
Our fates are intertwined.... Our Constitution binds us together."
In fact, the Constitution exists to protect our rights and to limit the
power of government. But Kennedy believes it exists to "bind us together" to
collect our "common wealth" for the "common good." This is not an appeal to
American values, but a total inversion of them.
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