Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A revised form of "you didn't build that"

I'm old enough to remember that during the 2012 election, one of the themes was the argument over President Obama's "you didn't build that" statement. It is a core question that divides Democrats and Republicans. That's because Democrats believe that capitalism requires an abating influence...government. And Republicans don't. They believe in free and unfettered capitalism. I've often described it as the difference between "a rising tide lifts all boats" and "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps." That distinction is also what has typically created a difference between Democrats and Libertarians.

A key foundation to the Democratic position is the belief in citizenship as the cornerstone of a democratic republic. In other words, we believe that the government is "us" and not "them." And we believe that it is our job as citizens to put a check on the growing influence of corporate power via our collective actions through government.

In the context of our current debate about government surveillance, it is critical that we all exercise our duties as citizens to engage in the conversation about developing the right balance between privacy and security. That is what democracy requires. And it is exactly what President Obama was suggesting we do in his press conference last week.
I'm also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness, because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation.

It's the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.
I don't always agree with Michael Tomasky, but he's one of the few people that recognized the historical significance of what President Obama did in that press conference last week.
As I was listening to these remarks, I kept thinking to myself about this paradox. No, they were not “bold and sweeping” proposals. At the same time, it sure seemed to me like this was the first time in my adult life I’d ever heard a sitting president propose checks on his administration that he didn’t have to offer. And Obama didn’t have to offer these. He was facing some political pressure, but polls have been pretty consistent in showing that a solid majority of the American public comes down on the side of what we might call controlled surveillance.

There was no mortal threat to his presidency here. Yet even so, he took a couple steps away from the imperial presidency. I think that’s the first time since the presidency became imperial—after World War II, more or less—such a thing has happened. And Obama was, as he claimed Friday, headed down this course before the Snowden leaks. Those began on June 5. But on May 23, he gave a speech at the National Defense University in which he foreshadowed the moves he just announced. Combine all this with John Kerry’s recent announcement that we have a plan for ending drone strikes in Pakistan, and you might have thought liberals would be cheering.
It doesn't surprise me that the President took this historical step. Way back in 2008 I signed on to support him primarily because he has always been committed to revitalizing citizen engagement in the democratic process. He knows that in doing so, some of our traditionally liberal ideology might be compromised in the process of creating "the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will." But ultimately, that is what is required to ensure our foundational belief in the democratic ideal of "a government of, by, and for the people."

It is that ideal that has been under threat by the Republicans and Libertarians of our day. And as Bob Cesca so profoundly articulated today, it is challenged by the ridiculous notion that liberals should now appeal to corporate power to uphold our principles. In the article Cesca is referring to, the author provides this quote:
Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis recently wrote in The Guardian: "Technology companies: now is the moment when you must answer for us, your users, whether you are collaborators in the US government's efforts to 'collect it all' -- our every move on the internet or whether you, too, are victims of its overreach."

So while I'm sure it's cool to have a secret White House meeting with President Obama -- I'm talking to you, Google, Apple, AT&T, and whoever else was in the room -- resist.
Notice how the US government is portrayed as a "them" doing evil things that he is calling on corporations to protect "us" from. Regardless of your thoughts about the surveillance programs, the minute we concede the "government as them" argument, we've lost WAY more than our privacy. We've lost the democratic ball game.


  1. Obama took these steps in not intervening in Honduras, in letting governments ask for our help, in basically repudiating the National Security Council memo #68 written in 1947 that insisted the USA should intervene everywhere, all the time, for any reason. Obama has asserted that other nations have national interests of their own. Ours are not the only factors. In domestic policy he has done the same requiring that Congress or the courts decide laws, that Executive Orders (such as the one many desired to end DADT) were too weak on one hand and intrusive on the other.

    He has affirmed government as "we, the people" over and over, and his leftish critics don't seem to understand that. Apparently we want an imperial president, just on our side. It's too much work for us to be engaged in activism to get what we want. We want Big Daddy to do it all for us so we can sit at home smugly and watch it happen. That, as you note, is the biggest loss of all - the abandonment of democracy.

  2. I plan on keeping these sorts of comments as a "STFU" to any emoprogressive who starts ranting about "corporate control." Seriously, the minute they start crying for the corporations to "protect them" from the government, they're demonstrating a remarkable inability to understand their hypocrisy.

  3. I expect President Obama will be a great ex-president. He will help citizens hold government accountable from the outside, freed from the constraints of being President.


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