Posts tagged President Obama

My Fathers’ Day Column

My Fathers’ Day Reflections

Tibor R. Machan

On my drive to work the other day I was listening to the local all news radio station and suddenly I am hearing President Obama chiming in with one of those “public service” messages on how fathers should comport themselves toward their children. Maybe this was supposed to be in honor of fathers’ day.

Gee, I had no idea that this is a presidential task, nor that anyone from Washington, DC, could possibly be familiar enough with my family situation to take up the task of advising me on these matters. I figured that Mr. Obama has a full enough plate with, say, being commander in chief guiding the military to do its proper duty, to protect our rights, being the presiding officer for the federal government, raising the funds needed by government to take care of the enormous debt that’s been accumulated by its profligacy over the last several decades, not to mention all the diplomatic problems and challenges he faces around the globe so he could leave the task of acquiring the skills of parenting to us, the citizenry.

But no. Here he is again, deploying his one-size-fits-all social philosophy, kind of like a totalitarian statesman is supposed to do. I recall when I was growing up under the Soviet socialist regime that was tried out in Hungary during the early 1950s, Comrade Stalin himself was supposed to be called by us all “our dear father” (edesapank). And sure enough that befits the head of an aspiring totalitarian regime since it’s political program is to subsume the full management of the life of the citizenry.

Under that kind of system there is no private realm. Everything is of public concern. One is supposed to be part of a collective, kind of like termites are parts of the colonies to which they belong. Individual differences are simply denied. Everyone is a specie-being, an entity of the group, a cell in the organism of society or even humanity. So with such an overall social philosophy it makes sense that those who deem themselves the leaders would presume to know it all about how to live life, everyone’s life that is.

I was actually surprised that nearly all the instructions about how one ought to carry on as a father happened to fit my case. I did in fact go out to throw pitches to my son; taught him and my daughters to bike; read them books, sang them songs, took them on long walks and drives and trips around the globe and on and on. (I even co-authored a little book with my younger daughter, a kind of reminder that “cute is not enough” in her life, which became the title of the small volume!)

OK, so Obama listed some of the activities I managed, lo and behold, to figure out as my own parental tasks. But other parents, more musical or athletic or culinary or nature loving than I probably choose different undertakings in which to involved their children–indeed, thousands and thousands of different ones, reflecting as it should their and their children’s individuality and opportunities and interests. But no, Mr. Obama had this list which he decided he should promote for all fathers to follow, as if he had been hired by them all to given them blow by blow guidelines and as if they couldn’t take up parenting without his regal guidance.

Maybe there are some parents so unprepared for what they have chosen to embark upon when they decided to have children that a little help from their friends is welcome–a bit of personal, private nudging or encouragement from people who know them well enough so it wouldn’t be an affront to butt in with such advice. But that is just it–to do any successful, valuable butting in one needs to know those parents intimately, as a psychotherapist would who has been called upon to lend a hand to those who are a bit clueless. Without such involvement in the life of parents, issuing the advice can only be insulting and quite likely misleading. Children are not produced by cookie cutters, all the same with need for identical parenting to help them grow up.

Of course, this is one of the main problems with Mr. Obama’s social philosophy, namely, that it fails to pay attention to our individuality, or specialness. Doesn’t he realized that just as our fingerprints or DNA fit us personally, with close attention to who we are (not merely some vague notion that we are all people), so must our upbringing. No one from the White House is equipped to give advice except in the most general way, like “Pay attention to what your children need from you!”

Introduction to Equality, So Badly Misunderstood

Introduction [to Tibor Machan's new book, Equality, So Badly Misunderstood]:

A supreme achievement of certain thinkers of the modern era has been to challenge and ultimately overturn the idea that some human beings are innately morally or politically superior to others and so they may rule these others as they judge fit. That idea spawned some of the worst practices and institutions among people over the centuries. It was in time invalidated by the plain enough fact that members of the human species were equal in one central respect, namely, their humanity.

However, serious fallout from this welcome development has also occurred. This is the popularity of the view, especially among political and legal philosophers as well as some prominent political economists, namely, that all changeable human inequality is unjust and is to be banished, that individuality itself is something insidious since when one pays heed to it, quite evidently people are quite different individuals from one another. This latter idea, let’s call it bloated equality, has helped, paradoxically, to reintroduce the former political and even moral inequality, which had been nearly totally dis- credited in much of the developed world. This is because in the effort to ban most of the inequality in human communities, those who carry out the ban must be vastly more unequal in the power they hold over others than those they endeavor to make equal. And while their unequal power isn’t being justified on grounds of birthright, the supposed imperative to equalize us all turns out to be insidious and manages to reap the same havoc with justice that the myth of innate inequality did that had been largely abolished. This in the face of the fact that many champions of such egalitarianism have tried to convince us all that justice itself demands their program, the equalization of all, especially in economic matters.

One clear example of public policy influenced by the imperative to establish the bloated conception of political equality came through in the 2009 debate about government guaranteed health care (or insurance) in the United States of America. Such a system is approximated in many other countries across the globe and debate is raging about just how wise and efficient it is. Whether justice requires it, however, is often deemed moot.
Many, especially those who joined US President Barack Obama and his administration, believe in economic equality as they seek to establish a system of government-provided universal health care for American citizens (especially the “public option”). In doing this they clearly take it as a given that the resources required so as to establish their policy may be secured by means of massive taxation and by borrowing against future taxes the payers of which would not even have been born when the policy would begin to be implemented.

So, among other dubious results, this egalitarian effort imposes burdens on yet unborn citizens, thus violating a precious principle of classical liberal politics, one that helped set off the American Revolution in fact, namely, that there must not be taxation without representation. Furthermore the policy includes the Draconian measure of legally requiring citizens to obtain health insurance, surely a measure that would render those who would enforce this far more powerful than those who would choose to abstain. Also, such egalitarian projects are based on the policy of massive wealth redistribution and on the conscription of people’s labor that’s needed to produce the wealth to be redistributed.

But these are just some insidious, unjust results, of the effort to seek substantial economic and social equality among citizens in a human community. The injustice stems from making use of individual human beings against their will, without their consent, and thus from unjustly imposing on them what amounts to involuntary servitude. In this work many more examples of such results will be discussed, along with various arguments and other considerations involved in the issue. It will go some way toward establishing that egalitarianism of the sort that underlies such efforts is badly misguided and, when implemented, it is out and out unjust.

What I will be insisting on defending is the idea that there is no justification for the belief that enforcing economic or any other type of substantive equality among members of human communities is a moral or political—and should be a legal—imperative. No basis exists for this view that, sadly, is widely held in our time.

According to Harvard University Nobel Laureate Amartya K. Sen, the debate over the importance of equality in social and political philosophy is over.

“We are all egalitarians now, because every plausibly defendable ethical theory of social arrangement tends to demand equality in some ‘space,’ requiring equal treatment of individuals in some significant respect—in terms of some variable that is important in that particular theory. The ‘space’ that is invoked does differ from theory to theory. For example, ‘libertarians’ are concerned with equal liberties; ‘economic egalitarians’ argue for equal incomes or wealth; utilitarians insist on equal weight on everyone’s utilities in a consequential maximand, and so on . . . What really distinguishes the different approaches is the variation in their respective answers to the question ‘equality of what?’”

Yet this observation by Sen is about political economy, a very fluid area of human life, so it doesn’t indicate what is most important to most people but what people engaged in discussing public affairs believe. Your neighbor and the watchmaker at the mall aren’t much interested in substantive (e.g., economic) equality. It is mostly when they turn their minds to public affairs such as voting, redistricting, jury duty, and government service that equality starts to matter to them.

More likely, what concerns a great many people is how to be decent and just in their lives not whether people are equal in even the minimal respect of protection for their rights. That may matter, in fact, but isn’t of much concern to most people.

Column on Charity and Generosity that Aren’t

Charity and Generosity that Aren’t

Tibor R. Machan

In a recent stump speech urging people to keep Democrats in power, President Obama told his audience that America is a country based in large measure on the principle that “we are all our brothers’ keepers.” This is not true, but even if it were and even if that idea were itself a good one, President Obama’s political philosophy has nothing to do with it.

What the president and those who share his politics believe in is the coercive welfare state, not in charity or generosity. For both of these are strictly voluntary–one cannot be charitable or generous by putting a gun to the heads of other people and ordering them to part with their resources for the purpose of supporting various endeavors that these other people haven’t chosen to support. Neither the enforcers nor the victims can claim to be charitable or generous, not by a long shot.

Why, then, does a perfectly well educated man like President Obama, who clearly must know better, insist on characterizing what he favors as charity and generosity? It is very likely a ruse, a way to disguise the real truth which is that he and his cohorts aren’t in favor of charity and generosity at all but in favor of coercing other people to part with their resources to support programs they have not chosen to promote.

Take Obamacare, as an example, which by all accounts isn’t favored by most Americans. Even if it were clearly morally commendable to give health care and health insurance to people who aren’t able to afford it, there is nothing morally praiseworthy in making such “giving” a matter of law and public policy that one isn’t permitted by the government to withdraw from or reject.

The hallmark of morality is to do the right thing of one’s own free will. It isn’t morality when one is regimented to do what is right, it is tyranny! Such regimentation deprives the deed of its moral significance–at most it becomes desirable behavior, at worst involuntary servitude.

But for some reason these facts are systematically disguised when people like the President try to defend the coercive welfare state. The effort to make it all look like a matter of charity and generosity instead of what it is, robbing Peter to benefit Paul (but not before a good portion of the take is handed to the coercive agents themselves), most likely aims to fool people by making them feel like they are greedy, cold hearted, and stingy if they don’t support the program.

This the people clearly need to reject, disown, big time. There is nothing greedy about rejecting the coercive welfare state, not at all. It amounts, instead, to rejecting criminal confiscation of one’s resources, a confiscation that in fact makes the victims less and less able to be charitable and generous and enables the criminals to do with the resources what they please.

Back in the days when pharaohs, kings and czars claimed they owned the countries they ruled, including all its wealth–never mind that they had little to do with producing any of it themselves–government may have seemed to be charitable and generous when it handed over some of this wealth to certain of its subjects. (Even then it was mostly for favors gained from them, not to be helpful!) This is because these monarchs did in fact have legal–though rarely moral–title to the wealth under their control. So their handing it to some (few) needy others could plausibly look like charity and generosity.

But there is no justification for this view seeing that the idea that the government owns the country’s wealth is pure poppycock (despite what some prominent legal scholars claim). It is the citizenry that owns the wealth, not the government (apart from some of the politicians’ private holdings which they rarely part with other than so as to help them gain power).

In our day it is pretty clear that government does nothing much that’s productive. It may, if it does its job right, provide protection for its citizenry from those who would violate their rights, including their property rights. But as it now stands this proper job of government is nearly everywhere corrupted and government has joined the criminal gangs that embark upon extortion, theft, confiscation and oppression, not on what the Declaration stated as its task, the securing of our rights.

Column on Why Obama Doesn’t Seem to Relate–emotionally

Why Obama Doesn’t Seem to Relate–emotionally

Tibor R. Machan

Most of the time when I hear about how President Obama lacks
the emotional disposition that most Americans would like to see him
demonstrate, I am disinclined to make much of the point. What I want
from someone in the role of the presidency is good thinking and not
sensitivity.

Nonetheless I have been paying a bit more attention to this
criticism of the President because as I have been following his
efforts to bolster the chances of Democrats to remain in power in
Washington, DC, I have noticed that there is something amiss with how
he comes over emotionally.

As a start, Mr. Obama is always glib, as if nothing on earth
could phase him, as if it is all old hat to him, he is way ahead of
everyone. This comes through, for instance, in his repeated dismissal
of anything that members of the Tea Party complain about. And that’s
just the beginning.

One related steady emotional theme in the president’s talks is
the effort to be accommodating toward critics and enemies of America.
Indeed, the very idea that Mr. Obama would identify anyone as an enemy
of the United States of America seems off base. This is because it
looks like he is mostly interested in building bridges between us and
them, however barbaric they may be.

Mr. Obama is one of those American intellectuals who appears to
be stopped from criticizing anyone abroad because, well, this country
has had slavery and segregation and poverty so how could it justify
being critical of anyone. It shows a spirit of perpetual
self-criticism and mea culpa, attitudes that appear to dominate the
president’s conscience (and we are here talking about appearances).
There is no black and white for the man–no one, not even a vicious
terrorist and a leader of a country in which women are systematically
and barbarically oppressed, justifies for him any sort of firm moral
condemnation. Like those ever-permissive parents who always have an
excuse for what their offspring are doing, no matter how mischievous
or outright evil it manages to be, for Mr. Obama those who attack
America, actually attack innocents everywhere, just could not be all
bad, unworthy of understanding.

This mentality of turning the other cheek, no matter what,
appears to underlie the widespread distrust people have of Mr. Obama’s
emotional makeup. Emotions, although they are ultimately unreliable
guidelines to action, are pretty good clues to what system of values
someone has internalized. If one has to force oneself disapprove of
or condemn vicious conduct and people and it doesn’t arise naturally,
people who do have a sense of just how bad some others can be will
become suspicious.

President Obama and his cheerleaders must realize that
eloquence is no substitute for emotional balance, for being in tune
emotionally with what those deserve who comport themselves
villainously. Being well spoken is not enough. One must also have a
sense of what needs to be said, have substance to communicate, a sense
of justice, if you will.

Or perhaps Mr. Obama just despises being disliked by people,
even by vicious rulers abroad. But that, too, reveals his emotional
priorities. Mr. Obama needs to open himself up to the possibility
that some people should really be hated, that they are evil and not
merely misguided, sick, or deranged.

Human life is distinctive in the world precisely because human
beings have a moral nature and they can act irresponsibly, morally
deplorably, contemptibly, as well as admirably, demonstrating moral
excellence. And while that idea has always had its detractors, the
moral skeptics, they simply cannot sustain their denial that people
are moral agents and capable of doing vile things for which they ought
to be condemned. They do not deserve sympathy but contempt.

And this is evident from the fact that the one exception to the
skeptics’ ambivalence about morality is their own utter contempt for
those who do take morality seriously. They tend to be dismissed, even
derided, as fundamentalists or moralizers, which is clearly and
paradoxically something (morally?) contemptible to the skeptics!

Moral skeptics usually are hoisted on their own petard. Their
amoral stance isn’t philosophically sustainable because human beings
are indeed moral beings, unlike the rest the members of the living
world. And one result of having a moral nature and admitting to it is
that one will openly cope with moral evil as well as moral excellent.
If one denies this, as it seems President Obama does when it comes to
America’s enemies, it will eventually stand in the way of reaching out
to ordinary people.

Column on Mandated Health Insurance

Mandated Insurance

Tibor R. Machan

Is the just signed federal health care legislation constitutional? Is it consistent with the principles of a free society? Is it what President Obama claims, consistent with the principles of this country? No. The bill is a straightforward advance–progress???–toward socialism, akin to that familiar to us in the former Soviet colonies and some other societies that believe in the top down regimentation of everyones’ life.

The central claim of socialists is that only society exists, not individuals who make it up. They are like cells in the body of the collective whole. We as individuals do not exist and claiming that we have the right to run our own lives is akin to one’s finger or foot claiming it needs to be left free to do its own thing. Seriously–this is the real meat of socialism.

But there is less Draconian socialist measures being proposed, including in the recently signed bill. A favorite retort to criticism of the mandate for us to purchase health insurance is that, “What’s the problem, we already have this with auto insurance in many states of the union.” Indeed, there may well be some serious legal challenges forthcoming to the just signed health care legislation arguing that it is outright unconstitutional to force citizens to purchase insurance. It is as if there were a law require one to by apples to sandals or cars. That would really be a drastic violation of our right to liberty.

But don’t states already do this when they require vehicle drivers to purchase insurance before they get on the road? So is there not a precedence to the new mandate?

In plain language, no. The reason is relatively simple. Most of the roads throughout the USA are government owned and administered. The government, in other words, owns the roads–or the citizens do with governments doing the managing, kind of like apartments are managed by other than the owners but with the latter’s authorization. So, then, presumably the roads around the country belong to the citizenry and are managed, with their authorization, by the government (e.g., the Department of Motor Vehicles and such).

But as with apartments, so with roads: only the renters (drivers) are under the jurisdiction of management, not everyone. Only those who choose to drive on public roads are subject to the government’s mandate that they carry car insurance (and whatever else, such as having their cars equipped with mirrors and bumpers). In short, only those using the roads must have the requisite insurance, not those who ride bicycles or walk or ride a horse on private property.

But that’s not what’s in store for Americans with the new socialist health care legislation. It forces them all to have insurance approved by the federal government, even if they would rather take different measures to deal with the prospects of ill health. Some may want to stash away some of their earnings and rely on this when they get sick. Some may choose to make sure they don’t get sick too often, at least not very sick, by taking exceptionally good care of themselves. Some may not mind getting sick and dying from it, given how much they prefer their hazardous life style (rightly or wrongly, as free men and women should be able to). Some may even believe that relying on physicians violates their religions liberty and is immoral–some Christian Scientists, I am told, hold this view–so they ought not to buy, let alone made to buy, health insurance as a matter of the religious freedom.

Bottom line is that the idea of coercing people to insure themselves is anything but compassionate, anything but humane, anything but constitutional in a free country. It amounts, plainly said, to involuntary servitude to some other people’s vision of how one ought to live. That is not what a free society is all about.

Not that most Americans aren’t already being coerced into supporting various measures of which they morally disapprove–like wars, like abortion for some, like funding other people’s welfare and education. So the outrage with the current advance toward socialism is phony in a great many instances. But there is no justification for believing that requiring drivers to carry insurance serves as a precedence for forcing them to buy health insurance. Apples versus oranges.