By now you’ve heard all about President Obama’s speech on reducing the budget deficit. If you, like me, weren’t able to listen to it live, chances are you’ve heard enough of the speech (or maybe you read the text of it), as well as some sort of commentary on it, to form an opinion. After all, it’s been chopped into sound bites, parsed, and analyzed to death by both sides.
It’s actually pretty easy to have an opinion on Obama’s words. It’s easy to look at the ideas and plans the president laid out in the speech and make a decision on whether you agree with them or not. Let’s face it: the vast majority of analysis of the speech has centered around the specifics of it.
But let’s take a look at one aspect of the speech that hasn’t been spotlighted much: Obama’s quoting of Abraham Lincoln.
Here’s where the 44th president invoked the 16th:
From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.
But there has always been another thread running throughout our history – a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.
It’s worth noting here that President Obama either badly summarized a much longer quote from President Lincoln, or misused it, or possibly even attributed a completely new meaning to it. Here’s what Lincoln wrote in 1854:
The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere. The desirable things which the individuals of a people cannot do, or cannot well do, for themselves, fall into two classes: those which have relation to wrongs, and those which have not. Each of these branch off into an infinite variety of subdivisions.
The first—that in relation to wrongs—embraces all crimes, misdemeanors and non-performance of contracts. The other embraces all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.
From this it appears that if all men were just, there still would be some, though not so much, need of government.
Next: Where have we seen this before?