We Must. We Must. We Must.

Is it too late to comment on Obama’s second inauguration? Well, here goes. Much digital ink has been spilled about the way Obama’s speech revealed the modern progressive vision, etc, etc. I was most touched by the word cloud of the speech that I saw floating around various news websites:

Look at that giant “must.” Is there any more brilliant display of the coercive power of the state?

From the transcript: A great nation must care for the vulnerable. We must do these things together. We must harness new ideas and technology. We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice.

You must make sacrifices for the greater good – a greater good that is defined by the government and carried out through the government. As Yuval Levin eloquently expounds, “The individual acting alone or the entire nation acting through its government, those are the only options we have.”

Such a philosophy is doubly weak. Voluntary market transactions can be mutually beneficial (i.e. for the greater good) without sacrifice. More importantly, though, sacrifices for the greater good do not have to be defined or carried out through government.

There is no mention in Obama’s worldview of churches, or non-profit organizations, or philanthropy, or donations to charity, or volunteering, or any form of community besides the government. What happened to this “community organizer”? This is Ross Douthat’s “Government And Its Rivals” continuing to rear its head – a government that inevitably crowds out more local, less coercive, and arguably more effective forms of sacrifice.

I’ve touched on this topic before, but it needs repeating. I think people often argue for government intervention, especially at the federal level, because it is seen as more “solid” or more “permanent” than the existing methods which have often been viewed as inadequate – and indeed many of them have been.

But there is no guarantee that federal intervention is any more reliable; future politicians can change funding and mandates, especially if they’re trying to reduce spending levels. There is also no guarantee that federal intervention is more effective; the layers of bureaucracy and missing information that separate the administration from the citizen invite many mistakes and fraud that are more difficult to achieve voluntarily (such as the mysterious huge rise in disability claims).

Perhaps you think I’m being unfair to liberals. After all, many of them actively work in the voluntary charitable sector. They might argue that government should simply fill in the gaps, and I could argue that government tends to overflow those gaps and crowd out everyone else, and we could have a nice little discussion.

But whatever the beliefs of many of the rank-and-file, the leading liberals of the day seem committed to entirely ignoring any collective action is that not collected by the government – and it’s not just in Obama’s speeches. It’s in Elizabeth Warren’s “Government is what we do together,” as if there is nothing else we have ever done together. It’s in the Biden’s donating only 0.2% of their income to charity; why give to other organizations when taxes should be covering any necessary charitable activity? It’s in Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s denunciations of conservative Christians who resist increased government efforts to help the poor, as if not wanting government forcing you to do it must mean you don’t want it to be done at all.

If there’s anything we must do, we must fight the idea that only through government can we accomplish anything worthwhile. I’ll be looking for some recognition of that in Obama’s state of the union address next week, but I won’t be holding my breath.