- (Courtesy, Derrick G. Jeter)
It should come as no surprise that Barack Obama is a man of the left. As such, he tends to downplay American exceptionalism and overplay his global worldview. As a partisan politico he has elevated opponent bashing into an art form. But his latest scree against conservatives was historically unhinged.
On May 5, 2013, President Obama delivered the commencement address to Ohio State University graduates. His subject was citizenship. Most of the speech, like most commencement speeches, was innocuous and unforgettable. That is until he blamed conservatives that mistrusting government is on par with viewing our constitutional system as "a sham." He advised the graduates to "reject these voices." Here's the complete paragraph:
"Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices are also doing their best to gum up the works. They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can't be trusted."
What Obama fails to understand or acknowledge is the fact that America finds its historical genesis mistrusting government, not because it was a sham but because it shouldn't be trusted with the people's liberty. The voices who created the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights were the same voices who warned "that tyranny [was] . . . lurking just around the corner." And it was. Those voices who distrusted government in 1776, 1787, and 1791 trusted the people as the only source of security of their God-given gifts.
What the Founders understood-and we could quote them at length-was a simple idea: governments are made up of sinful and selfish men, and as such governments are apt to seek secrecy, to consolidate power, and to demonize opponents. These things were true at the beginning of our country and are true today . . . and will be true tomorrow.
So wary were the Founders of government, even the one they created, they enumerated few powers to the federal authority and established as the first principle the right of the people and the press to speak freely, to assembly peaceably, and to petition openly.
It struck me, then, as unconstitutional for the president to advise citizens to reject voices warning of potential abuse given the fact that the only scandal, when the president delivered his commencement speech, was the ongoing heartburn of Benghazi. In the month since, the extent of government incompetence and corruption is now only coming to light-giving ample reason to heed those voices.
Added together, the IRS's targeting of conservative and pro-Israel groups, the IRS's squandering of taxpayer monies, the Department of Justice's collection of the press's phone records, the National Security Agency's (NSA) collection and mining of citizens' phone records, as well as the possibility that the NSA's PRISM program might collect and mine web and email content and you have the makings of not only a political tsunami-one that erodes public trust-but of a truly "sinister entity."
And in the context of his commencement speech, the president's June 7 answer to a question about the NSA's dragnet is doubly troubling for those of us worried about government tyranny. "If people can't trust not only the executive branch," he said, "but also don't trust Congress, and don't trust federal judges, to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here."
Obviously, there must be some level of trust between governors and governed, or society will devolve into cynicism and chaos, but what the president advocates is a blind and mute trust. The problem comes when some Americans open their eyes and begin to voice concerns about government tyranny, even when such skepticism is within the best tradition of the Founders. It is these voices we are told to reject. But instead of rejecting them, we should listen and weigh them carefully. And we should remind the president-as well as the IRS, the DOJ, and the NSA-that the sham is not in exercising First Amendment rights; the sham is in saying, "Trust me, I'm with the government" and expecting uncritical acceptance.