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“Did we not bring you into existence?” Socrates imagined the state saying to him should he have attempted to evade its death sentence. “Your father married your mother by our aid and begat you,” officials might have continued. Athens provided for the “education of children, in which you were also trained.” The message? You owe even your life to your government.
Philosophers still debate whether Plato wished readers of the Crito to embrace or reject this total conception of state power. No such ambiguity surrounds Barack Obama’s remarks crediting the success of individuals to the state.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” the president told an audience in Roanoke, Virginia last Friday. “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.”
For the businessmen who made all those “roads and bridges” happen through generous tax payments, Obama’s assertion was especially insulting. Isn’t it enough that tax-funded construction projects bear the stamp of the Obama administration rather than the taxpayer funders that the president vilifies? The head of state also credits the state for the spontaneous accomplishments of private citizens.
As the website of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) website notes, “On March 3, 2009 President Obama made the commitment that all projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will bear a recovery emblem to make it easier for Americans to see which projects are funded by the ARRA. To meet this commitment, FHWA strongly encourages agencies to use the economic recovery signs on all projects funded by the ARRA.” Governments have spent tens of millions of dollars on signs giving the administration credit. But businessmen now must not even take credit for their own businesses.
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