Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bob Barr: Obama Criminalises Reagan

Bob Barr, a committed Libertarian, has a cranky response to President Obama's recent commencment address at the University of Michigan, where he offered a defence of government in American history.
President Barack Obama extolled the inherent and expansive virtues of all things government, even as he was sharply and pointedly critical of those who criticize government as being “inherently bad.” Such talk, Obama clearly intimated, can lead “extremists” to commit acts of violence.

Had Obama been in a similar position of authority in January 1981, would he have thus accused Ronald Reagan of inciting to violence during his inaugural address? In order to be consistent, Obama would have had to similarly charge his predecessor; and he would have been just as wrong and off-base then as he is in 2010 to blame those who are critical of Big Government for the actions of a small number of criminals who commit acts of violence.

The answer, of course, is "no, he wouldn't". Firstly, Barr's quotation of Reagan is incomplete and misrepresentative, as his summation of Obama's speech. Mickey Edwards argued against similar conservative sloganeering a few months ago:

Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this: "In the present crisis," referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." He then went on to say: "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work." Government, he said, "must provide opportunity." He was not rejecting government, he was calling -- as Barack Obama did Tuesday -- for better management of government, for wiser decisions.

Obama on Saturday:

So, class of 2010, what we should be asking is not whether we need 'big government' or a 'small government,' but how we can create a smarter and better government... Government shouldn’t try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.

Secondly, Obama didn't blame critics of big government for the acts of extremists. Instead, he made a point about the need for civility of discourse in US politics - something Reagan is frequently praised for upholding - and the ultimate danger of hyperbole and demonisation by both left and right:

It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate, the one we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.
So, no, Bob Barr, Obama didn't just call Reagan a terrorist, he echoed his rhetoric and asked Americans to do the same.

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