What Are Governments For, Anyway?


Tom Van Dyke

Tom Van Dyke, businessman, musician, bon vivant and game-show champ (The Joker's Wild, and Win Ben Stein's Money), knows lots of stuff, although not quite everything yet. A past inactive to The American Spectator Online, the late great Reform Club blog, and currently on religion and the American Founding at American Creation, TVD continues to write on matters of both great and small importance from his ranch type style tract house high on a hill above Los Angeles.

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151 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    I’ve been one of those liberal types who has been hard on you Tom. I admit it. But when i read this quote from O that you have here, it makes me relize how deserved all the crap you have been give is.
    Here is the full quote FWLIW:
    ““If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

    The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.”

    The righosphere is taking the snip they want and will run with it despite it clearly not being what was meant. O didn’t do anything to the notion of the American Dream or heroism, he stated a frickin obvious comment.Report

    • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher says:

      You are destroying the drama, G.

      The correct reading is: …business ..created …fires.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The problem with the obvious truth that Obama told is that it sounds very much like a gaffe that would be made by a strawman of a liberal position.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I’d buy the gaffe aspect a bit more if it didn’t involve poor reading comprehension. Wait i’m being an elitist, most of the people on the R o’sphere can read the entire quote and likly don’t even disagree with it. Does anybody actually disagree with the full quote?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I agree with the quote in the same way that you agree with the sentiment that if you stay in school, stay off of drugs, get married before you have a child, then stay married to that person, you’re much more likely to be better off than if you fail to do any of these things.

          You *DO* agree that folks tend to be better off if they stay in school, stay off of drugs, get married before they have children, and should stay married to that person… right?

          I imagine that your response to the statement is to hem and haw and perhaps ask if I think that women should stay married to men who beat them with tire irons.

          How’s this? I agree with Obama’s statement in the exact same way.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            When did this place get so meta? “Yes, that’s technically correct, in the sense that it’s factually true, but not in the sense that I approve of the conclusions that might be, validly or otherwise, be drawn from it.”Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Exactly. The argument pattern is recurring: yes, or course the facts confirm statement P, but given that P entails consequences I might find objectionable, I reject P.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      I assumed everyone was onto the joke, Mr. Greg. BHO is selling a certain communitarian—or is it anthill—vision of society. It’s not just taking sophistic advantage of a unfortunate locution

      “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. ”

      Romney’s, that “corporations are people” was a similar one—most of the criticism was sophistic, a gotcha.

      No, I’m not playing gotcha with President Obama atall. Yes, I’m having a bit of fun at BHO’s expense, but the title and finish of the post are quite straight-up, highlighting that there is indeed a difference in worldview in this election—what are governments for? In Barack Obama’s view—and likely yours—government is for practical purposes synonymous with society. Yes, man is a social animal and we stand on the shoulders of each generation that came before.

      But if you follow Barack’s argument further, his is still suspicious of the American Dream, that there are plenty of people who work hard and don’t get squat. And that individual success is not entirely the result of individual effort [“You didn’t build that!”] is less true than false.

      I get the nuance of his point [Vattel made it 300 years ago], but there’s a communitarian-collectivism here that’s tone-deaf, if not hostile to the American Dream.

      Is the American Dream a myth? Many of those who support the president believe it is, in fact many around here. There is a there there, a here here.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Let the tap dancing begin. His quote is obvious and nothing out of the ordinary of American political beliefs. Right you admit that, so how do you make something sinister out of it. Well you go behind it..huh. There is no suspicion of any AD here, you’re just projecting the fear you wish to have on to his quote. Where is the suspicion of the AD Tom, where is the there that is here or the here that is there.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          We’ll see, Mr. Greg. I think BHO hit a rich vein, a substantive one: What is government for? is the real question, and I think mileage varies bigtime in this election.


          “Consider this current example: the Obama campaign employs a PowerPoint series of cartoons called “Life of Julia” which follows Julia, a faceless paper doll character, through her frictionless life. Cradle to grave, swaddled in President Obama’s social policies, Julia’s life proceeds free from conflict or failure. Julia is also free from men other than a son who simply appears in one slide, then disappears from the rest of Julia’s life. Without a husband, Julia seems married to the Federal government, enjoying various presidential allowances of tax dollars that ease her way through the coming decades.

          The right wing commentariat was in stitches about Julia (who resembles an international symbol for “Ladies Room”), but really, her story is not funny at all; it is chilling to someone who has experienced the liberal arts. The practice of the liberal arts, especially literature, involves comparison, contrast, allusion, resonance, recognition of irony, suggestion, implication—all the artistic architectonics of meaning and sensation that arouse in us what it is to be human. Julia is only a cartoon but what is so unfunny and repellent about her is that she represents what her creators think about human beings.

          This is why selling the Julia concept frightens me. She doesn’t yearn to be free, like a human; she yearns to be kept. Julia embraces the piano key life that the president offers, and like W. H. Auden’s Unknown Citizen, she will act and behave predictably, she will choose and think correctly.

          But in literature (and life) we recoil from those who trade freedom for safety nets and soft landings. The great anti-utopian novelists warned us over and over what happens when we make that bargain: George Orwell’s Winston Smith, Aldous Huxley’s John Savage, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s D-503 would rather suffer or die than join the Party, take the soma, or blend into the One State.

          So what I find most chilling about the Julia ad concept is its creators’ cynical view of Americans, particularly women. And what if her creators are right? As Michael Walsh writes, “It’s tough to accept that perhaps a majority of our fellow Americans would cheerfully trade liberty for a false sense of security.” That is, how many workforce-ready but literature-free voters see The Life of Julia and find her flat, subsidized, feckless life desirable? With the liberal arts in decline, how many “miss the connection?” One must have been exposed to Orwell, Huxley, and Zamyatin in order to see their relationship to Julia and hear the warning.

          A perennial question that divides the political left and right is this: what sort of beings are we? Do we have an immutable, perhaps transcendent, nature that will surrender everything utopia for autonomy, agency, and freedom (Elvis)? Or is there no inherent nature, and humans are just socially constructed, plastic, seeking nothing but safety and a reliable sense of well-being (Julia)?

          Political Science, Psychology, and Anthropology cannot answer that question, and the sciences can only measure what is measurable. The liberal arts and humanities, however, insist that we are like Elvis, and that those who trade liberty for comfort always live to regret it.”—David ClemensReport

          • Avatar greginak says:

            +1 for having a quote that references D Socialist Orwell. Fine stuff.

            so the short version is goverment= ahhhhhh socialism, despotism, fear, fear fear.Report

          • Avatar david says:

            There is something obnoxious about saying YOU CAN’T KNOW THAT! YOU CAN’T KNOW THAT! and pretending that it is about some unknowable, transcendent property of human existence, when it turns out to actually be about the human desire for, say, health-care.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              David, I’m not saying you’re wrong. Man might prefer the Life of Julia. [Or “woman.”] That’s what this election’s about.Report

              • Avatar david says:

                …. do you think the election is about unknowable, transcendent properties of human existence, or about the human desire for health-care, lower unemployment, and other rather concrete concepts?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Of course! In fact, I submit that our liberals are motivated by concern for their fellow Americans whom they view as poor and defenseless, and need Obamacare and all that other stuff. [That’s just what that Life of Julia excerpt said.]

                I don’t think our liberals are voting for free healthcare for themselves and mere self-interest. That’s why I called this piece “What is government for, anyway?”

                Neither do I think Obamacare opponents are against it because it’ll screw them personally. Both sides have a view of what’s best for the country, and per Adam Smith, have a “fellow feeling” for their brother Americans. I believe most vote for what they feel is in their fellow’s interest more than in their own interest.

                I have a very warm feeling for FDR liberals. My mother was one, and I loved her dearly. And I don’t think there’s anything the matter with Kansas either.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel says:

                I don’t see how you can draw the importance of ‘this election’ from that great tract. ‘This election’ doesn’t matter. Romney has the same view of government, except for a slight rhetorical difference.

                This post (http://goo.gl/26aqJ). Even if Leviathan does everything to glorify its destruction and pillage, a plurality of Americans still reject it and don’t vote. That’s more than those who either vote for Team Red or Team Blue. The dichotomy is meaningless, Obama and Romney will both make the world worse, the difference in the ways they’ll do it is only cosmetic.Report

          • Avatar The Crafty Trilobite says:

            That anti-Julia essay makes one of the sillier straw-man arguments I have ever seen. Julia isn’t shown taking a bath, either, so can I conclude that Obama secretly wants us all to stay dirty? Pfui.Report

      • Avatar david says:

        Alright, in good faith. I like re-posting this quote:

        We think that politics is more than an unfortunate necessity required by our inability to live together without killing each other. We think it is, can be anyway, an arena in which we work out and pursue, sometimes with notable success, large and constructive purposes. When I think about the history of democracy in the past century, and think about its greatest achievements of domestic policy, the areas of real moral progress, I think of civil rights, women’s equality, and the halting fight against a class society. With respect, classical liberals were in the rearguard in every one of these struggles. And for a simple reason: in each case, the struggle depended on a willingness to fight against inequality, subordination, exclusion through political means, through the dread state. And if you mix your classical liberal values with the classically conservative predisposition to think that politics is at best futile, at bad perverse, at worst risks what is most fundamental, then you will always celebrate these gains when the fight is over: always at the after party, inconspicuous at the main event, and never on the planning committee.


        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Keep it coming, David, not that modern liberalism isn’t already credited with everything good under the sun, everything bad consigned to its enemies.Report

          • Avatar david says:

            The context of those remarks was the “liberaltarianism” debate circa 2009, under the shadow of Lindsey and Wilkinson leaving CATO, not the 2012 post-CATO-takeover, sudden-Ron-Paul-surge edition. In 2009, left-libertarians demanding that establishment libertarians denounce their Rothbardian paleolibertarian allies was in vogue, rather than establishment libertarians rushing to the rooftops to scream their denunications without any prompting. Cohen was a liberal tossing in remarks from the sidelines. Hence the remarks about civil rights movements, I imagine; paleolibertarians have always reliably condemned it.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              I’m all onboard with it, David. I won’t deny modern liberals their due.

              “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”—Daniel Patrick Moynihan

              However, now that the glory days of the unambiguous righteousness of marching with Dr. King are over, I question how well Moynihan’s “liberal truth” applies to the rest of the conundrum.

              That we have certain

              “…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…”

              and that those rights apply to black folk too, is not in question here in America 2012.

              [I left out the “endowed by their creator” bit for quality of ease.]Report

              • Avatar david says:

                Marching with Dr. King was very much controversial at the time, I daresay.

                But arguing that government in the space of culture justify government in other areas only works against totalist libertarians who themselves think that government in all areas of human existence share same legitimacy, albeit none, of course.

                So as to what American liberals think – well, I think they regard Obamacare in the same light as Medicare and Social Security, i.e., as the death of American freedom and individualism now but a third rail of all politics in two decades, in a polity that regards itself as the bastion of freedom and individualism and -care as part of a safety net that all respectable people regard as enhancing rather than reducing freedom.

                The doctor begins to lose freedom. . . . First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren’t equally divided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him, you can’t live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it’s only a short step to dictating where he will go. . . . All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won’t decide, when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.


            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              establishment libertarians


        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          On civil rights – first, it was carried by Republicans, not Democrats. More than anything it was a North-South divide, not one of political philosophy. Second, the culture led on civil rights, not the govt. The govt was a big part of the problem and a laggard in extending civil rights. That reality comports perfectly with the classical liberal view of govt and the ability of the political process to defend minorities.

          A comment on two meanings of egalitarianism. Left-liberals are egalitarian insofar as they want equal outcomes, less inequality. Classical liberals are absolutely egalitarian, just in a more fundamental sense – they believe in the equal worth of all people. Indeed, they view the classical liberal programme as the only one consistent with that form of egalitarianism.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            On civil rights – first, it was carried by Republicans, not Democrats.

            Not so much. The people pushing for it hardest were Northern liberal Democrats like Hubert Humphrey, but the CRA wouldn’t have passed without LBJ twisting arms as hard as he could, and many of the arms he twisted were Republicans. They weren’t opposed to it the way Southern Democrats were, but wouldn’t have voted for cloture (which took 67 voters in those days), nor for the special bill in the House that threatened to move the CRA to the floor without letting it die in the Rules Committee, without the arm-twisting. So yes, a larger percent of Republicans then Democrats voted for the CRA, but it wouldn’t have come to a vote without a full-court press led by Democrats.Report

            • Avatar BobbyC says:

              That’s fair. “Carried” was too strong of a word. Somewhat evidenced by my next sentence where I pointed out that the bill was not chiefly divided on partisan lines.

              It’s unpopular to mention it but the CRA still admits legitimate criticism. We probably won’t see much of that after the smear campaign against Rand Paul following his openness about why he would have preferred a different version of the law.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Nowadays, there’s no need for public accommodation laws. If some miscreant wants to enforce a whites-only policy in his diner, he’ll lose a lot of business from people of all colors, and nearby places will be glad to take away his former customers. That wasn’t true in 1964. If it took a big stick to end apartheid in the US, the people who’s been enforcing it for 100 years had no one to blame but themselves.Report

              • Avatar david says:

                I think you would be astonished how many gated communities would like to prohibit Those People from darkening their doors, even today five decades after the CRM.

                Redlining is still a thing that happens; it is just suppressed from becoming so egregiously bad that it is obvious to untrained observes. Do you think any particular kind of legislation might play a role in that suppression?Report

          • Avatar david says:

            We do not start in equal-opportunity propertarian Paradise and fall from grace by eating of the Tree of State; we start in highly unequal quasi-feudal hierarchies of nation above tribe, tribe above family, fathers over sons, and brother against brother, the tyranny of would-be landlords and warlords, where states have to seize the legitimate use of force away from soon-to-be subordinate entities in pursuit of any goals at all, equality or sanctity of property or otherwise.

            Which makes statements like “culture led on civil rights” rather puzzling. I hope you mean more than the silly fallacy that Jim Crow laws were all that were holding American blacks back; Northern theaters did not desegregate until legislation actively obliged them to, and Jim Crow laws did not oblige unequal treatment anyway, which were overtly unconstitutional even during the era – unequal treatment “just happened”, behold Culture!

            But regardless, by culture what you mean is a would-be claimant on the use of force lost to The State, and after the fact, you claim that it would’ve been harmless anyway if only The State possessed infinite will and capacity to defend minority rights that the claimant denied existed.Report

      • Avatar BobbyC says:

        I’d say that this perspective is inadvertently hostile to capitalism. Obama doesn’t mean to kill capitalism, it just gets suffocated by accident along the way to a better society.

        The Life of Julia article that you posted is incredible by the way – tk you for sharing that.

        Also, this notion that the govt funded research and was therefore involved in innovations, such as rocketry or the Internet is just an infuriating and misleading point. Imagine if bankrupt companies pointed out that they did make revenue after all, just not any profit. It is in no way a defense of an expanded role of govt to point out that some govt spending on research led to something of use. If we taxed the people enough and had govt fund 100% of research in the country then the govt would be responsible for 100% of the inventions! Is that the progressive idea of how to build a better society?Report

  2. Avatar clawback says:

    You think “business” is the antecedent of “that”? Wow.Report

  3. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    The one of Steve Jobs is particularly hilarious given that he didn’t actually build that.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Did he build this one, though, PatC?


      [The point being that the government didn’t, of course.]Report

      • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher says:

        Neither did Meryl Streep.

        That bitch.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        Oh, the government certainly didn’t build the Apple I.

        And really, “the government” didn’t build the first Macintosh, either. But without “the government” providing DARPA, NSF, and Air Force funds to the SRI Augmentation Research Center, and those engineers going to work for Xerox PARC nearly part-and-parcel when SRI downsized, and Xerox funding PARC as a big autonomous tax write-off, and Steve getting in to see the Alto, and taking Atkinson with him… well, we’d probably still have a mouse eventually. When? I dunno. But there’s no guarantee that Mr. Jobs would have even come close to being associated with the dingus. The whole Microsoft/Apple dynamic of the 80s wouldn’t look anything like what it looked like.

        Claiming that Steve built Apple entirely out of his own two hands just buys into a mythic view of entrepreneurship that really isn’t borne out by the history of tech startups, it ignores the context of everything that happened around him.

        That isn’t to say that entrepreneurial bent isn’t something that we shouldn’t cultivate. Believing in the American Dream does foster a faster turnaround, historically. It gets stuff done a lot sooner, and that’s great for innovation and everybody is better off because we have a system that fosters that… but a lot of the mechanisms that we use to foster that are actually fraught with… tah-dah! Moral hazard. So there’s prices to pay for that.

        As a side note: private companies trample innovation just as often as they create new things, nowadays.

        If intellectual property was regarded the same way in 1976 as it is in 2012, and Xerox took the same track then that Apple is taking right now, today… there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the provenance over the Apple I computer would have spent a decade in the court system.

        And the whole time, Apple would be insisting, then, that the way Apple acts now, today, is ridiculous and an example of clear overreach, and howling for the government to take away Xerox’s monopoly.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          PatC, I think this is a necessary discussion. And I don’t think yr argument’s invalid, although the jumping off point was just a stray snarky Photoshop thing, not the real world. The Obama quote said “business,” so that could just as well be an auto body shop or a corner store.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          As a side note: private companies trample innovation just as often as they create new things, nowadays.

          This is not discussed nearly enough. We can argue that one of their primary means, patent litigation, is a government thing. But it’s truly a government+business thing, with business driving the bus and government primarily being too deferential.Report

  4. Avatar Morat20 says:

    Lame, Tom. Lame.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Thanks for that. You could be right, but I doubt it, Mr. Morat. A “gaffe” is a politician telling the truth: I think The American Dream is very much on trial, and I do believe that many Obama supporters—and Obama himself—believe it’s a myth.

      What he and they DO believe in is government. America is dead, long live America.

      “Consider this current example: the Obama campaign employs a PowerPoint series of cartoons called “Life of Julia” which follows Julia, a faceless paper doll character, through her frictionless life. Cradle to grave, swaddled in President Obama’s social policies, Julia’s life proceeds free from conflict or failure. Julia is also free from men other than a son who simply appears in one slide, then disappears from the rest of Julia’s life. Without a husband, Julia seems married to the Federal government, enjoying various presidential allowances of tax dollars that ease her way through the coming decades.

      The right wing commentariat was in stitches about Julia (who resembles an international symbol for “Ladies Room”), but really, her story is not funny at all…”Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        Oh, I think it’s a myth, all right, Tom. It always has been a myth, just like Captain America or Superman.

        But still, it doesn’t hurt to have a desire to have a little more truth, justice, and the American Way in your diet. Myths can be plenty useful.

        I think that Obama, and many of his supporters, do indeedy believe in government. However, I think that’s a charge that spreads across the ideological spectrum just fine.

        Everybody believes in government when their ideological brethren are the ones in charge.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Well, PatC, this touches on the question whether a good citizen should destroy serviceable myths. 😉

          Something perhaps we’ll get to. In the meantime, I do think BHO committed a gaffe, and subverted the American Dream. You—and I think most here @ LoOG—think it’s a myth. Fine. I think Barack Obama agrees with you.

          You have the luxury of saying so in blogs. Barack Obama has just spilled the beans about his own true feelings in a presidential race. Chips will fall where they may, but they’re gonna fall.

          I don’t think it’s that big a revelation—the Dem Party’s message is that the game is stacked against the little guy, and it’s the politics [read: the Democratic Party] that’s gonna level the field. But it’s out in the open now, in plainer terms, and I think that’s a good thing.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            I don’t think it’s that big a revelation—the Dem Party’s message is that the game is stacked against the little guy, and it’s the politics [read: the Democratic Party] that’s gonna level the field. But it’s out in the open now, in plainer terms, and I think that’s a good thing.

            FWIW, I agree, this is the Dem’s party message.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            By the way… this:

            > Well, PatC, this touches on the question whether a good
            > citizen should destroy serviceable myths. 😉

            This is a discussion that might be worthy of an entire symposium.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        When you have to tear apart a few sentences, and rearrange them into a new sentence that doesn’t mean what the original set said, is it a gaffe?

        No, it’s just lame. LAME.

        But by all means, continue your ranting. It’s amusing. Does Obama have a huge mustache in your world? Does he twirl it while laughing maniacally?

        Oh! Wait! Does he end meetings with “No, Mister Bond…I expect you to DIE!”?Report

  5. Avatar Dan Ryan says:

    A decent respect for your audience would suggest you might want to correct this and apologize to your readers.

    I realize you think this gets you some cheers from the cheap seats, but even your Obama-hating fans deserve the facts once in a while.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I’m not sure I understand the point.

    “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

    This is something we all agree on, regardless of of political stripe, yes? That we’re building upon the successes of those that came before, and that we are not actual islands? I mean, it’s not particularly insightful, really. But I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone that would disagree with it. You could be pro- or anti-government and this would be true.

    What great debate is it, exactly, that this is supposed to exemplify? What clash of civilizations does this quote draw a line in the sand for, exactly?

    Is it possible you’re looking for too much between the lines with this?Report

    • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher says:

      The point was, the story of people misunderstanding Obama’s point made Tom think of something that undermined Obama. Then Tom furrowed his brow and thought about how Obama doesn’t get America. And then, he made this post.

      Now do you understand?Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Barack Obama’s point was understood very well. Many folks agree with it, esp @ LoOG. That’s Tom’s point, Mr. Fisher.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          Tom, do you not agree with that statement? Not the commentary written about it afterwards, but that paragraph I just quoted – the one you took your quote from. The one trying to lead up to this conclusion:

          “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together”

          Do you not agree with this? If not, then I certainly understand your objection to the president saying it. But I’m having a hard time believing that if Romney had said such a thing (and I can’t believe he hasn’t said this same sentiment, worded differently, a thousand times in politics) you would view it as the American Dream on Trial.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            RTod, I don’t think BHO really evenly splits the difference, nor do I think it can be. I don’t think “we” do everything together. I think a lot of “us” ride in the wagon giving directions, and liberty demands the gov’t keep them off our back and out of the way.

            The right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and man establishing governments to secure those rights. The “communitarian” view of government is not this.Report

            • Avatar Scott Fields says:

              Attention any libertarians interested in even a temporary coalition with conservatives: when they call for limited government and liberty, conservatives are not talking about the same things you are.

              Liberty “demands” that government keep the (free)riders off the backs of the wagon drivers in our midst. Wagon’s not going where you want? Too bad.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Tod, I don’t think a lot of people hear this as being as innocuous as you do. I think Barack is saying—Hey, you rich people, you owe your success to all of us, so now it’s time to give back and pay up.

      Democrats think this is fine, doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Many others go, hold on there, fellow, those are the fruits of MY labor. The gov’t was still collecting its cut when I was working 16 hrs a day and eating top ramen, so don’t tell me I owe even more now that all the hard work’s done.

      The Little Red Hen story.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “I think Barack is saying—Hey, you rich people, you owe your success to all of us, so now it’s time to give back and pay up.”

        YOU think he MEANT that. But he didn’t say that. And this coming from the person who insisted we can only work directly from the transcript and infer nothing back during Slutgate.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:


        • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

          The President, others in his party, and left-leaning members of the media have been talking an awful lot about the rich “paying their fair share” throughout this election. It’s well established that the rich already pay well more than their fair share. http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth/2012/04/18/the-real-tax-rates-of-the-rich/ So what’s “fair”? It’s not unreasonable to find part of the answer in the President’s remarks last Friday.

          In all fairness (no pun), the President is not wrong, in part. I strongly disagree that “we succeed … because we do things together,” to the extent this means we are striving toward some sort of collective success. But he’s not wrong that we need government to provide certain collective action. Not just for roads and fire trucks. Those examples are for the rubes, and it left him open to easy (and enormously fun!) attacks. We need government to provide a stable currency and a transparent, arm’s-length financial system. We need government to provide a legal system that allows individuals to collectivize and risk their capital in limited liability organizations, and to check the behavior of those organizations with appropriate regulations (civil damages are quite a bit insufficient if you’re a victim of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, for example). We need government to protect intellectual property and balance innovation with Jefferson’s vision of ideas as fires that must spread or die. And so on.

          It’s all of this—far more than mere roads and fire and police protection—that entrepreneurs absolutely depend on to create new wealth.

          That said, which of these functions is so sorely underfunded by current levels of taxation that compels the President to stump for higher taxes? I notice that the President came right out with his argument for higher taxes but didn’t bother, and still hasn’t bothered, to explain just what it is he means to buy with this tax increase if he gets it. He also referred to letting the Bush tax cuts expire as “government spending.” This also is telling: The money you earn comes to you directly (rather than to the government and then apportioned to you) merely as a byproduct of the way the economy is designed. But it does not belong to you, the President’s locution suggests, until the government decides not to tax it. It further evinces the notion that, for the President, our success and our wealth is derived and owned “together,” and it is together, through the instrument erected to act on our behalf—the government—that it is owned.

          Context certainly matters. Over the course of the past three years, he revealed himself to those who watched him closely. His remarks Friday bring much of it into focus.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:


            I agree with most of what you write. It still remains the case that implying that Obama was waving away the role of individual initiative in building a business, or saying “you didn’t build that business” is an obvious falsehood.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              James, it is not obvious that it is a falsehood. It may turn out to be one, but if it is, it is non-obviously so. See Jason’s discussion of this in the other postReport

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Murali, sorry but your link doesn’t work, so I’m not sure what you’re referencing.

                Given that the clear grammatical construction is that “that” refers back to “roads and bridges,” and given that Obama explicitly stated that individual initiative was one of the elements of creating a business, I can’t agree with you that there is any doubt.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        “Who will help me bake this cake?”, asked the Little Red Hen.
        “Not me”, grunted the pig/dog/cat/horse.

        So the Little Red Hen gathered the wheat, ground it into flour, mixed it with milk, and egg, and baked a tasty cake.

        The farmer came to the Little Red Hen and asked:”Will you give me a slice of cake to pay me for my wheat?”
        The Brown Cow came to the Little Red Hen and asked:” Will you give me a slice of cake to pay me for my milk?”
        Mrs. Hennypenny came to the Little Red Hen and asked:” Will you give me a slice of cake to pay me for my egg?”

        “No, its MINE, all MINE!” the Little Red Hen exclaimed. “For I am a Heroic JOB CREATOR”, and I made this cake ALL BY MYSELF”.

        “Indeed”, said the farmer later, as he sat at his table, enjoying his drumstick.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Hypothetically, let’s say POTUS had said this…

    If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that on your own. Somebody else helped madke that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research helped created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

    …Would anyone, even in the rightosphere, really have a reasonable objection to that?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I still think no one has a problem with it if you don’t parse it down to one line – even though I have to say that one line is so poorly phrased I can’t believe it was written like that.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        If you heard it, it was spoken oddly… I first though he might have been referring to the actual building the business is housed in. I’m still not so sure he wasn’t.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Well, that’s kind of my point. It doesn’t take that much cleanup to get at what was obviously meant by the argument, and what was obviously meant is so innocuous it may well qualify as a platitude: “You use infrastructure.”

        W. got gang-tackled by critics from left of center for garbled syntax, which did not diminish the points he was making. Now O. is getting the same treatment from the other side of the fence. In both cases, it’s simultaneously silly and counter-productive to the health of our polity.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Sorry, Friends Likko & Kelly, I think BHO is stating a POV that many or even most Americans agree with. [We’ll find out in November.] I’m not taking advantage of a clumsy gaffe atall, although it does lay the issue bare.

            From what I understand on the internet, Scott Brown’s opponent Elizabeth Warren has been using this same argument for awhile now. I’m sure the political part will unfold further.

            But as political philosophy, it’s an entirely valid POV and I think one of the strongest arguments for “communitarianism” politics in the first place, that there’s no such thing as a “self-made man.”

            My own reservation is that this communitarian “debt” is better devolved to the pre-political sphere, i.e., communities, “society.”Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              “I think BHO is stating a POV that many or even most Americans agree with.”

              So most Americans hate the American dream?Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Why must it be one or the other?

              Americans, it seems to me, are not merely cardboard cutouts or talking points, and as such most likely believe in America, the American Dream, the self-made man, and a spirit of community all at the same time.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Tod, let’s put “bridges and roads” in the context of The Life of Julia” and cradle-to-grave welfarism. That BHO was taking on the controversial topic of government-financed roads and bridges doesn’t pass the laugh test.

                As for the alternate explanation that BHO was simply spouting pointless banalities [“we do this all together”], I’m tempted to agree he’s a vacuous idiot who misspoke, but I think he was espousing a sincere belief—which is entirely consistent with his view of the purpose of government, again, “The Life of Julia.”


              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                So we’re back to the “He’s an incompetent, vacuous idiot who is leading a covert, calculated charge to destroy America!” are we?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Hey, incompetent vacuous idiots are the most devious and calculating idiots of all!Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                That webpage doesn’t come up for me; When does the transvaginal probe happen?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Lib60: Per request, the actual “Life of Julia” Obama ’12 link, well-derided. The disingenuous versions are even better.


              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                I asked for when the transvaginal probe happens and you respond with a slide from age 3 when the Republicans take over!?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Lib60, I thought you were being sincere, asking for a link. I get your joke now about the transvaginal probe.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The Life of Julia thing is pretty pathetic. I quit at the Headstart slide. My kid went to Headstart, and she loved it, but very simply Headstart has not been demonstrated to provide lasting benefits. It might be a worthwhile program, but cutting it out completely, 100% would not be catastrophic in any way.

                Imagine if someone could have started up a conversation like this without blatantly falsifying the President’s speech. Wouldn’t that have been cool?Report

  8. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    Thanks for posting this, Tom.

    This issue of the boundary between individual acheivement versus community doesn’t lend itself to extremes; otherwise we end up with a choice between Maoist collectives, or Somalia. And I know how much everyone here enjoys that debate.

    But my first thoughts are about how the myth of the heroic individual actually attacks culture by dismissing responsibility and obligation.

    Most religions shun the heroic individual- they recognize that it is fundamentally antagonistic to the fabric of their mores.

    The “You didn’t build that” is correct in more ways than one- literally, as in an enterprise needs physical connectivity and precedent and resources to be created; but also in that it requires a civil society, one that has been built up with cooperation and collective will.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Cheers Lib60. I’m in transit for the next few hours so I hope you’ll keep the vampires off my neck.

      I agree with your fundamentals—I ran across


      in my studies of the American Founding. They had a copy of him at hand while they were drafting the Constitution! And I found his core argument, that man doesn’t give birth to and raise himself, to be decisive in man as a social animal, and indeed support for modern liberalism.

      But again, let’s return to the question What is government for? and my core reservation that modern liberalism makes “government” and “society” the same thing!

      And that’s at the bottom of modern liberalism, of many here @ LoOG, Barack Obama’s “Life of Julia,” and now out in the open with this latest bit. Again, Moynihan:

      The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.

      The Life of Julia is the eradication of culture, or more precisely, subsuming of it by government. This is Barack Obama’s vision, and it’s about time we have another plebiscite on it. Y’all won the first two, you know—FDR and LBJ.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “Cheers Lib60. I’m in transit for the next few hours so I hope you’ll keep the vampires off my neck.”

        LoOG Commenting Policy:
        “In general, a comment will be deemed inappropriate if it [is] a blanket personal attack directed at the author or another commenter…”

        (See what I did there?)Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Most religions shun the heroic individual- they recognize that it is fundamentally antagonistic to the fabric of their mores.

      Jesus wasn’t a heroic figure? The man literally walks on water, raises the dead, cures lepers, stands up to the freakin’ Roman empire, willingly (albeit unhappily) accepts a gruesome and humiliating and painful death, but comes back from the dead himself as the ultimate sacrifice and for the purpose of paying the ultimate price for what individuals could not possibly do on their own demonstrating a triumph over even death itself. Seems pretty damn heroic to me. If you believe the story, anyway; I happen not to personally, but if I did, I’d say the guy was a huge hero.

      Moses wasn’t a hero? Having the cojones to tell Pharoah “Let my people go” in the first place shows some fortitude. Organizing hundreds of thousands of people to pack up and leave the wealthiest, most fertile land in the world for parts totally unknown, and doing it in eight days, that’s an impressive feat of logistics. Parting the Red Sea was a damn fine moment. Getting to be the direct mediator between the awesome and terrifying Divine and a tribe of unruly Chosen People couldn’t have been easy, either. Again, if you believe that sort of thing, it’s a damn impressive story about a damn impressive man.

      Buddha wasn’t heroic? Life of luxury and power, walks away from it to seek Truth. Finds it. It turns out to be a simple, beautiful, and morally stringent Truth — and he spends the rest of his life not only preaching it but living it, with all the difficult moral demands it makes, because Truth is more important than ease or comfort. I’d call him a hero.

      Mohammed wasn’t a heroic figure? Pretty much a war hero and the founder of a new nation. And a poet of no mean skill at the same time despite a lack of formal education. Not without flaws (he married for money once and a sickeningly underage girl later) but obviously a singular figure in history, a Great Man who changed the flow of history by his personal efforts and charisma if there ever was one.

      Or consider America’s civic culture. We celebrate heroic individuals all the time. War heroes earn our praise and admiration for their sacrifices and service (e.g., Pat Tillman). Business leaders become celebrities in their own right and their commercial accomplishments are called heroic (e.g., Steve Jobs, referenced above in this thread). Artists generate controversy, to be sure, but again are celebrated most when they articulate their visions strongly and connect with a large audience after struggling to make that vision articlate (e.g., Walt Disney).

      Culture is to a significant degree driven by heroes, and religion, which is after all part of the culture, is strongly hero-driven.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        No, they (Jesus et al.) weren’t heroic individuals. Yes, they were certainly brave figures, but not heroic in the sense we are talking about here, and most definitely did not encourage people to shrug off communal responsibility.
        Christian theology is about nothing if not self surrender; Islam literally means “to submit” (or so I hear).

        As an interesting aside, there is a recurring theme within Christian theology of viewing Heaven as either a city teeming with people and community, or a garden, allowing contemplative solitude.

        Consider the military, or Boy Scouts; I’ll use Scouts since I am most familiar with them. BSA is openly quasi-militaristic in its organization, and explicitly devoted to the formation of young men’s character.

        Within the organization, rank and acheivement are both individual and communal. The boys are formed into patrols, and the slogan of the partol is “one for all, all for one”. The manual stresses that the patrol does everything as a group- eats, sleeps, pitches tents, cooks, cleans, everything without individual recognition or distinction.
        Yet earning a merit badge is to be done strictly as an individual, with only coaching from adults; no teamwork. At the awards ceremony the boys are called up by name, not patrol.

        Walt Disney is actually a good example- he allowed himself to become the face and personality of his empire but never tried to fool anyone into thinking that he personally did all the work or had the genius; the “nine old men” who created the art were kept anonymous so as to allow the organization to benefit from having a team, not a

        Its a mistake to think of the communitarian ethos as one that doesn’t embrace heros. There IS a place for individual acheivement. It just has to fit in with the need for collective effort.Report

  9. Avatar b-psycho says:

    To answer Tom’s question, government is the formalized expression of the ruling class in the society it is part of.

    I do not recall being asked whether I wanted to subsidize business. Obama’s claim, if assumed true, suggests to him that taxes should be increased to keep the “agreement” going. It suggests to me something more like the “agreement” thus far has been a sucker move for most of the population, thus the reason it takes place via the tax code and not voluntary cooperation: if offered outside of the state as an actual contract the response would be “no”.Report

    • Avatar david says:

      Packaging transfer payments into enforced state insurance has been how the American welfare state works since the New Deal. Of course it would never work at an individual contractual level, which cannot sustain the transfer payments.

      Politically it relies on the insurance element to allow a very individualist culture to fool itself into accepting entrenched and massive transfer payments – hence FDR recognizing, with astonishing foresight, that the tiny checks paid into SS would make the vast majority of recipients who pay in less than they will eventually withdraw nonetheless feel as if they have worked for their payout.

      Elsewhere in Europe socialists made far larger gains than they ever did in the US; states capitulated to making open transfer payments lest the claim to private ownership of industrial capital be thrown out altogether. Regardless, the threat has always remained in the political zeitgeist. That was circa Otto von Bismarck, as a note, and likewise David Lloyd George. But viable socialism of this degree peaked in the US under Huey Long decades later, and never returned.

      When that psychic change happens in the US – when people start expecting entitlements as part of being human, not part of having suffered for it – then I suppose TvD will be able to say that the American Dream is truly dead. But not yet.Report

      • Avatar b-psycho says:

        I think you missed what I was getting at.Report

        • Avatar david says:

          It was more a musing on topic of the original post than your comment alone, really.Report

        • Avatar david says:

          To clarify, I am using “American Dream” in the sense I read TvD as alluding to, where equal access to the economic and cultural franchise happens as a matter of course and not as the continual product of political action through the state, and political rhetoric – not highfalutin’ bloggers with social contract theory in mind, but politicians being populist and such – assert as much.

          In intellectual-blog-land I think we can all perceive that the line between being progressively taxed to fund a state-identified entitlement and being obliged to participate in social insurance against state-identified undesirable outcomes at means-tested rates is in principle nonexistent, but culturally it appears to matter.

          Americans feel they deserve welfare because they ‘worked’ for it, no matter what law and jurisprudence say, whereas the former consciously adopts the intellectual-blog/SCOTUS line – that the benefits are not actually owed and only exist as elements of each successive government budget. When that sinks into the popular consciousness – that significant chunks of what they feel they deserve are the result of continual political contest, that significant property rights are creations of politics – then what TvD calls ‘communitarianism’ will be inevitable – when such rights are openly contested, telling everyone that you don’t need and never needed their support to enjoy your property is a one-way ticket to losing it.Report

  10. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Why is this line emphasized:
    If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that.

    Instead of this line:
    The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together (emphasis added).

    There seems to be an effort to portray the President as downplaying individual initiative, but in the second line he explicitly gives props to individual initiative.

    And how could anyone think “that” refers to “business,” when it clearly refers to “roads and bridges”?
    Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that.

    This is really appalling; perhaps the lowest quality post I’ve yet seen here at the League.Report

    • Avatar david says:

      Yet another edition of Leaguer making a post that almost instantly demands a rewrite and repost, I think.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Yet another? Are we rife with such posts?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        The OP ends with:

        The American Dream is fully on trial just exactly now, and the great debate of 20th century political philosophy returns—-what are governments for, anyway, and where does the individual fit into all this?

        I don’t think throwing out that question for group discussion is below LoOG standards. It may be that the antecedent to the question doesn’t quite amount to the challenge to the American Dream that TVD thinks it does, which is fine and critiquing his assessment of that as the antecedent is also just fine. But questioning the role of government and the individual in society, questioning the availability of success and if so upon what conditions that success might be predicated, these concepts strike me as eminently LoOG-worthy.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Sure. But if I started a post with “Mitt Romney is stupid and wears magic underpants and hates poor people. So tell me what you think about the Presidential election?” it would be rightly regarded as pure crap.Report

          • Avatar david says:

            Yeah, TvD isn’t even actually pushing that line of argument so posting it is just emotionally-satisfying (I presume!) distraction from actual discussion.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          The way you pose the questions is certainly LOOG worthy. If Tom posed those questions based on an actual understood quote by O or didn’t engage in hysterical, the gov is trying to kill the culture and destroy the individual wackiness that might be a way to start a converstaion.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Asking what the role of government is is obviously just fine. But the post depends upon a blatantly false representation of what Obama said. The claim that Obama “defenestrated heroism” depends on what is either an intentional dishonesty about what the President said, or is so sloppy as to fall below a standard of reasonable care.

          Is engaging in clear and undeniable misrepresentation made acceptable, as long as one asks a reasonable question at the end? I’m having a hard time understanding how.

          Can we expect this to become a standard approach among League bloggers? I’m absolutely confident we won’t be seeing it from others. If I’m right, that suggests the other League bloggers don’t actually see this as a legitimate thing to do.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            “Can we expect this to become a standard approach among League bloggers? I’m absolutely confident we won’t be seeing it from others. If I’m right, that suggests the other League bloggers don’t actually see this as a legitimate thing to do.”

            Let’s just say what we all know is true… because Tom is one of a few conservative authors here, the standards are different. It’s affirmative action, plain and simple. Fancy that…Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              Here’s an idea to try on for size. TVD is not our token conservative. We’ve a number of conservative, or at least conservative-ish, members of our community. Wouldn’t bug me at all to see even more than we have.

              No, TVD is our Howard Cosell.

              A LOT of people were annoyed by Cosell’s voice, personality, stylings, and observations to the point of hate when he was one of the broadcasters on Monday Night Football. But he was as necessary to making that broadcast work as the more conventional and popular Frank Gifford. Every so often, Cosell would offer something fascinating to think about. But in every three-hour broadcast, his jokes and anecdotes and observations sometimes fell flat. Gifford would handle those with varying degrees of grace (and Don Meredith with varying degrees of sobriety).

              But when Cosell left in the mid-80’s, MNF got a little bit less colorful, a lot less controversial, and therefore significantly less interesting. We’d miss TVD if he left. By all means, challenge what the man writes. He asks for no special treatment in that regard and as a community we pride ourselves on taking stuff on with intelligence and rigor. But without someone mixing it up, it’s not nearly as much fun.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                My point is that Tom is held to different standards, because criticisms of his place as a FP author tend to get regarded (often by himself) as blatant conservative bashing, no more and no less.

                Being a disingenuous jerk is still disingenuous and jerky, regardless if you are “good” or “entertaining” in that role. Tom could have made his point without all the bull crap but he continues to engage the bull crap because he knows he won’t get truly taken to task on it by The Powers That Be. And the rest of us, those who play by the rules and try to stick to the standards, are left scratching our heads about what is really going on here.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                There is a strong appearance that you are making an excuse for dishonesty, waiving it away as mere “color.” That’s hard to take.Report

    • Avatar Rod says:

      Thank you, James. That’s almost exactly what I was going to post after I’d worked my way down through the comments.

      And frankly, I really appreciate that it’s coming from a Libertarian, since you can hardly be accused of liberal apologetics. Just a fair-minded reading, whether you agree with the underlying sentiment or not.

      It was just a clunky turn of phrase. English is like that. Unfortunately when you’re speaking you don’t get the chance to read it over and edit for clarity.Report

  11. Avatar joey jo jo says:

    oooh oooh mr. dyke mr. dyke!
    is it to be drowned in a bathtub?

  12. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I think that it’s quite likely that the strawmen on either side of the argument vastly overestimate how much The Individual/The Infrastructure Provided By Everybody Else is responsible for success (and how we’d want to define “success” is a very interesting argument as well).

    I’d be interested in exploring the nature of the strings we think ought to be attached to this success.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I think a lot of it depends on the scale you are viewing it. Compare my success to someone born in a starving village in Africa and I’d be hard pressed to claim much of the credit for myself. I didn’t have much to do with being born middle-class in America.

      Compare me to other Americans and the balance gets better. Other white Americans, or other middle-class Americans, or other male Americans, or other white, middle-class, male Americans… etc, etc, etc.

      The reality is, I don’t know that the proportion of individual/infrastructure can really be calculated, especially since I don’t think those are the only two variables at play… You also have luck, randomness, family support, etc.Report

  13. Avatar James Hanley says:

    What’s interesting is that there are honest ways to critically examine Obama’s question. One approach would be to ask how much of the infrastructure really requires the government to build it vs. how much can be privately supplied. Another is to ask whether in fact it is those successful businessmen who contribute the most to that infrastructure; so that it is functionally them supplying, as much or more than others supplying it for them.

    But these reasonable responses aren’t what we get–what we get is a devious claim that Obama simply dismissed the role of individual initiative.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      To clarify, since you and Kazzy both seem to be coming from the same perspective, a public clarification:

      I don’t see that Tom is always putting forth *and* endorsing the version of the argument that he’s pulling from wherever he’s getting it from. I think he pulls that version forth for various reasons, depending upon which argument it is, and I freely admit I don’t always get where he’s coming from.

      However, I think the gut impulse of some of the commentariat is to respond to the argument as if Tom is Drudge. I don’t think Tom is Drudge, Tom actually engages with some (but not all) of his opponents. Enough of them that I think his choice of who to engage with, or not, is less motivated by a desire not to engage with the argument as it is not to engage with that particular person. I can see how that might be irritating if I was one of those people, but that’s not a damnable offense.

      That’s hardly something that I think warrants a “he gets special treatment” charge. *I* do that, too, just with different arguments and different members of the commentariat. Blaise engages with you, James, but I don’t know that those exchanges are valuable for either of you – or always fair, for that matter – although they’re sometimes interesting to read as an observer.

      And I *do* think it’s interesting to see the “version of the argument that has traction on the right”, whether or not Tom actually believes it, and regardless to what degree he does. I think it’s ultimately fair to post those arguments here with or without endorsement… it’s certainly the case that plenty of people post arguments around here that they agree with or don’t, and support them or tear them down, or sometimes don’t do either.

      I’d rather have the argument be here, than not. But that’s just me.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        To each his own. This doesn’t diminish my respect for you, but I truly could not disagree with you more. From nearly my first encounters with TVD on Positive Liberty I’ve found him to be…disingenuous. He covers all with a veneer of big words (often wrongly used) and superficial manners. For me, I’d rather not have essentially dishonest arguments be here, and I am baffled to understand why anyone would. It’s not as though they’re hard to find elsewhere on the internet. Even if it turned out TVD was just role-playing (which, based on past interaction at PL, I’d be beggared to believe), I would struggle to understand why the League would benefit from having someone role play a role so commonly found elsewhere on the internet.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Tom pees on our leg and tells us its raining. Then, no no no, we’re not even really wet. But, no, in reality, we peed on our own leg. And we owe him thanks fr the heads up. Emoticon. Faux manner. Patronizing dismissal.Report

  14. Avatar Rod says:

    Will Wilkinson has a post on this subject at his blog on the Economist site for anyone that’s interested: http://www.economist.com/node/21559245Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Thanks for the link. Will actually makes both of the arguments I suggested were legitimate responses to Obama’s speech.Report

      • Avatar BobbyC says:

        Wilkinson makes reasonable points, but it’s all fairly tepid (and esp on the question of taxation).

        What I like about the OP here, as opposed to the longer and less inflammatory WW post, is that it goes at the big issue. What is the proper role of govt? That IS the point and Obama is presenting his view of society. It’s the Warren Buffett view, so clearly Will is right that it’s not evidence the Obama is some anti-American tyrant. But the full Obama quote does show how Obama thinks of the relation of the individual to the broader society. He thinks that we are born into a profound debt to our forebears and (somehow) our fellow citizens. I can think of how we might show a bit gratitude and respect, but it’s the debt part that loses me.

        How exactly does the general excellence of our public and private institutions create a moral basis for redistribution of resources via politics? Obama seems to confuse the fact that we should all be grateful for a reason why we should all submit ever larger shares of our economic freedoms to national politics. As Tom asks, what is govt for anyhow?

        Now Romney is not a true representative of the countervailing zeitgeist, the classical liberal. But he is sort of trying in his way.Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          In Wilkinson’s piece, he makes reference to the CATO argumen that the things we get done publicly can also be done privately.
          True enough- various municipalities have public or private power companies, public or private cable systems.

          I think the disagreement comes from when there is a service that needs to be offered universally. Obvious examples are police and fire, but I am thinking about the deeper organization that government offers, like schools and public health vaccinations.

          Beyond the zero-benefit problem we have discussed here before, allowing a segment of society to opt out of some goods actually causes measurable harm to everyone else.

          We often make reference to earlier primitive societies, as examples of how pre-New Deal and pre welfare state societies worked; but actually, I can’t think of any society anywhere in time that didn’t have a sizeable part of its functions done in common. Whether it was building a hut, hunting, or feasting, there was always some function that was done as a group, and no one was allowed to opt out.Report

          • Avatar Citizen says:

            So we shouldn’t consider ourselves born as free people into society? Did I miss something here?Report

          • Avatar BobbyC says:

            Obama’s riff on how indebted we all are to society raises serious questions about what he thinks the relationship of the individual to society is. When you say “no one was allowed to opt out” that is going to strike classical liberals as meaning that freedom is curtailed by the requirements of the group. It’s reasonable to draw a line between voluntary cooperation and coercion based on the threat of force. It may be natural for humans to form groups which use various forms of coercion to get desirable behavior from individuals, but then again lots of objectionable behavior is natural.

            My fear is that Obama doesn’t even see this as the real debate. He just thinks that the criticisms of him are either populist expressions of economic discontent or ideological fervor about a sort of imaginary Randian utopia of individualism. He is truly deaf to the substantive criticisms of the expanded role of govt that he views as essential to the American system (and his critics do not).Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 says:

              I point out that there has never really been a society in which coercive contributions to the group were not present, as a way of suggesting that maybe society can’t exist without it.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                I think a bit more needs to be brought forth to justify either (1) society cannot exist without some measure of coercion or (2) the coercive elements of living together are helpful / lead to good outcomes / make sense from a certain perspective. I’m not making the case that they don’t here. (I see coercion as a natural but nasty human phenomenon – much harm can be attributed to it yet it is impossible to say exactly how society would look without it)

                It may be that pedophilia has been present in every human society. You could equally suggest that society could not exist without pedophilia. Presumably you think that is absurd. Clearly there is (and has to be) more to your view than the ubiquity of coercion in human societies thus far.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Not bad atall, BobbyC. The “state of nature” argument from the classical liberal days. True that no man is an island, but he is also born free, or so the theory goes.

              “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”—TJeff
              “You don’t own me.”—Lesley GoreReport

  15. Avatar Citizen says:

    No one was allowed to opt out. Many people changed tribes, or lived without them. It was a personal freedom. No man is a island, but he can choose to be. I support that man, even if I don’t agree with the practice.Report

  16. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    So, wait, are we gonna read ‘The Lonely Crowd’?Report