"The private sector's doing fine."
– President Barack Obama, June 2012
When politicians talk enough, their meaningless platitudes eventually reveal nuggets of truth, giving a glimpse behind the curtain. President Obama, the mainstream media's acclaimed Orator in Chief, recently spilled the beans.
"Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that," he said.
Since uttering those words at a Virginia campaign stop, there has been much backtracking and excuse-making by Obama supporters, scrambling to explain that the president really didn't mean what you heard, that he meant something sort of like that, but different.
They complain that critics took his words out of context. The president supposedly didn't mean that business owners didn't build their businesses. He allegedly meant business owners didn't build bridges and roads. But for that to be true, the golden tongued Harvard Law Review president had to have trampled English grammar and mangled sentence construction.
As the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto noted, "that" necessarily referred to "a business," not to "roads and bridges."
"...[N]ot only because 'business' is more proximate to the pronoun 'that' and therefore its more likely antecedent. The [Obama] Truth Team's interpretation is ungrammatical. 'Roads and bridges' is plural; 'that' is singular. If the Team is right about Obama's meaning, he should have said, 'You didn't build those.'
"... [H]is campaign asks us to believe he is not even competent to construct a sentence."
Nevertheless, as the Register editorialized, "Whether you take his words at face value or prefer to infer he simply meant government can help businesses by building bridges and roads, the president's speech was troubling. Implicit in the president's message is that private individuals and privately held companies are not sufficient. Big Government is the engine that pulls the train, in his view."
Perhaps the plain meaning of Obama's words is insufficient. Let's examine his remarks in the larger context of his political philosophy.
The president recently told a campaign gathering that, "[W]e tried our plan – and it worked."
"Worked" apparently means something different to Obama than to, say, working Americans. Did the president mean that it "worked" when U.S. business startups dropped from 554,109 in 1987 to 394,623 in 2010?
When Obama took office, unemployment was 7.8 percent. It is now 8.2 percent. Perhaps Obama's plan worked in the way a U.S. major meant during the Vietnam War when he said, "It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."
What are we to make of a president who proclaims with the certainty of a sunrise that, "If I don't get the unemployment rate under 7 percent, I deserve to be a one-term president," then runs for a second term even though unemployment has been above 8 percent his entire tenure? Did he not mean what he said? Or did he mean it in a way we simply don't understand?
Here's more context: Four years ago Obama told an interviewer that even if raising the capital-gains tax rate resulted in less tax collected, as it has in the past, it's only "fair" to raise the rate because he believes "the rich" should pay more, period. Therefore, taxes aren't to pay for necessary government functions. Taxes "work" when they dish out punitive "fairness," at least in Obama-ese.
The president plainly speaks a different language when he insists we must "invest" to stimulate the economy. Most people consider investing to be voluntary, such as deciding to buy Facebook stock or to sink their life's savings into starting a new business.
When the president says "invest," he means the government should take money from people whether they want to give it or not, to pay for things they already have decided are not worth their voluntary investment. Think Solyndra.
The president considers such involuntary wealth transfers "investments." But what rational private enterprise operates on such a self-destructive understanding of capital investment? Can you imagine a CEO telling his board of directors that despite their objections, he will sink their bankroll into questionable "investments" they already have rejected?
In that same Virginia speech, the president described government "permitting" private-sector growth. Permitting? We have turned a significant corner when the government must permit private economic growth. It's yet a sharper left turn when we accept that not only is government permission required, but government subsidies and financing, too.
"I guess shovel-ready jobs weren't quite as shovel-ready as we thought," Obama quipped to the amusement of his jobs czar, Jeffrey Immelt.
The Obama rhetorical trail is littered with inadvertent truths such as that, spoken either from arrogance or at other times with the assumption they never would reach the ears of those who disagree.
We might have expected this considering Obama's early foot-in-the-mouth experience. Remember his first campaign for president when Obama told a private gathering of presumed like minds how difficult it was to persuade working-class voters? "It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Not all his out-of-the-mainstream views have been spoken in presumed confidentiality. In 2010 Obama let it be known that "I do think at a certain point you've made enough money."
In retrospect, we suspect that inadvertent truism is one the president would prefer not to have uttered. Covetousness being what it is, there probably are people who think some others make "enough money," however much that may be. But how many Americans are comfortable when their government presumes to tell them they've made "enough"?
Even the most redistribute-the-wealth-minded among us don't have to think too long or hard to understand that the line of demarcation between haves and have-nots, or rich and nonrich, if you prefer, is entirely arbitrary. It should be obvious that government is the least-capable and least-desirable choice to draw such lines.
If government may impose punitive taxes and engage in crony capitalism, each of us is vulnerable. As the Wall Street Journal's Taranto recently wrote, "If you 'didn't build that,' then you have no moral claim to it, and those with political power are morally justified in taking it away and using it to buy more political power."
Early warning signs were plentiful. But apparently people read something else into even Obama's bluntest confessions of faith. For example, Obama's memorable explanation of his fiscal philosophy to the man dubbed Joe the Plumber: "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
What should we have inferred from those words? Probably not what came to pass.
He probably didn't mean that, four years later, poverty would be "spreading at record levels across many groups from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor," as Newsday recently reported. Or that, "More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out."
Surely he didn't mean that. Or did he?
Then again, he warned us early that, "We cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly everything is going to be OK."
Those were words we could have bet the farm on.
As the economy tilts toward the second recession of Obama's four-year term, the meaning behind his verbiage seems to be getting clearer, despite his doublespeak.
As the president himself said, "Americans ... still believe in an America where anything's possible - they just don't think their leaders do."
I couldn't have said it better myself.