What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
The following is an op-ed I had published at The Daily Caller today.
On Thursday, Barack Obama’s re-election campaign released an advertising campaign titled “The Life of Julia,” in which 12 snapshots of a fictional woman’s life are used to demonstrate how Obama’s policies would help her, and how Mitt Romney’s policies would hurt her.
At age 3, “Julia” enrolls in Head Start, which Obama has expanded but Romney wants to scale back. At age 18, she qualifies for up to $10,000 under Obama’s American Opportunity Tax Credit, which Romney wants to let expire. As she ages, she takes advantage of Obama’s preferred health care plan, capped student loan payments, free birth control and medical screenings, government business loans and welfare programs — all things that Obama claims Romney either wants to reduce or eliminate.
In short, Julia is an irresponsible woman dependent upon an increasingly large nanny state, and how dare anybody prevent her from getting the money and services she thinks she deserves. Obama’s campaign messaging, then, celebrates the entitlement society the president is helping to foment. Sadly, that message may be enough to win him the support he needs.
Consider a recent story out of Valencia College in Florida. Professor Jack Chambless asked his students to write an essay about what the “American Dream” meant to them. Students were asked to write the essay on the spot to better capture their initial and sincere impressions, and had about 10 minutes to write. The results were sobering.
According to Chambless, over 80% of the class believed that the “American Dream” entailed the government providing things for them to live comfortably, such as free tuition and health care, down payment assistance on a home, money for retirement and free vacations. Students also thought that the American Dream meant that the government should “give them a job.”
Whether it’s a fictional Julia or a very real John, Jenny, Jake or any number of other voters who embrace this entitlement mentality, the nanny state Obama is championing has become wildly popular. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 48.5% of Americans live in a household that receives some form of government aid. The government which Obama currently presides over has become, as the French economist Frédéric Bastiat once prophetically stated, “the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”
Indeed, the popularity of government services and benefits has radically transformed this nation. In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The citizen of the United States is taught from his earliest infancy to rely on his own exertions in order to resist the evils and difficulties of life; he looks upon social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety and he only claims its assistance when he is quite unable to shift without it.” That America is no more. As Obama’s advertising campaign demonstrates, a large segment of society now looks upon social authority not with an eye of mistrust, but with an open, expectant hand. No longer are children taught to rely upon their own exertions, but as the example of 3-year-old Julia shows, they are taught to praise and participate in government programs allegedly designed to help them succeed.
In the end, the “Julia” campaign amounts to little more than propaganda, since a few small snapshots of a person’s life can’t tell an accurate story of the government’s impact on that person’s life.
The campaign points out how Julia benefits from various government services, but notably fails to mention the other side of the story. Of course, somebody has to pay for those benefits; the nanny state, as Bastiat also said, “is not a breast that fills itself with milk.” In other words, the money has to come from somewhere.
Thus we might consider the fictional “Sam” who, to fund the services Julia enjoys while also providing for his own family, must work two jobs, thereby missing quality family time and otherwise enjoying his life. Perhaps Sam loses one of those jobs because increasing government regulations has led his former employer to cut costs, and he was one of the casualties. Maybe Sam himself is compelled to depend on government handouts because Obama’s economic policies have helped foster an environment in which it is difficult for Sam to succeed on his own. Both Julia and Sam then receive what must be taken from an ever-decreasing pool of people forced to fund the programs championed in Obama’s campaign.
If Chambless’ students are at all indicative of a significant segment of the electorate, the “Julia” campaign will ultimately be a success. One student’s essay stated that “As human beings, we are not really responsible for our own acts, and so we need government to control those who don’t care about others.” We’re to believe, of course, that Obama and those who champion the nanny state do care about others.
Therein lies the fatal conceit. While they may care about “Julia,” they clearly don’t care about “Sam.”