It was depressing to watch President Obama fawn over a collection of African thugs, dictators, and thieves at his big Africa summit this week. Sure, diplomacy means occasionally inviting bad people to share good food... but it matters what the "leader of the free world" says when he's surrounded by people who routinely loot their $2-per-day populace to fund their art collections and hundred-room estates in France. It is vitally important to avoid giving such people the legitimacy due only to the just rulers of lawful nations.
Alas, I have to put leader of the free world in scare quotes, because it's risible to describe Barack Obama that way. Freedom is not his bag. He sees liberty as a dangerous indulgence for the unworthy people he rules. In countless areas of life, he thinks only compulsive force, exercised by an immense government, can lead to wise and just outcomes. Individuals simply cannot be trusted to make such decisions for themselves.
Obama and his Party also believe that the Ruling Class deserves enormous wealth, comfort, and privilege. The people who actually produce things are grubby, selfish, and unable to reach their own understandings about wages and prices. Their political class likes to rhetorically posture as "public servants," but there is no question whatsoever that the public serves them. Under Obama, Washington D.C. has become a glittering palace city, one of the richest zip codes in the country. The front-runner to succeed him on the Democratic ticket, Hillary Clinton, thinks a mere hundred million in the bank makes her "dead broke." She brims with visible envy for the private billionaires who fund her campaigns. Beneath them labors a vast managerial class that earns far more than their private-sector counterparts, with benefits that have a way of bankrupting the municipalities obliged to pay for them, and the kind of job security that can keep a man at his desk years after he's caught viewing pornography on his government computer.
What does Barack Obama really have to say against President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who amassed a fleet of luxury cars and a $30 million Malibu mansion while presiding over a country where clean water is hard to come by, and 20 percent of the children die before they're five years old? They both agree that powerful political rules are entitled to live in great luxury. Obiang probably spends less of his national treasury on each trip he takes abroad.
Who is President Solyndra, the man who opened a bailout-shielded pipeline from taxpayer wallets to his partners in the insurance industry, to lecture anyone else about corruption? The big objective of the African summit was to drum up African business for American companies. It would be nice if we had such a strong economy that we could speak plainly to people who routinely murder their political opponents when we invite them to sales meetings. But we don't.
What standing does the man who weaponized the Internal Revenue Service have, to lecture any other world leader about repressing dissent? What weight do the words of a President who campaigns against ballot security through his Attorney General - in a cynical ploy to drum up racial resentment against his political opponents - carry when he talks about dirty elections? Obama's health care scheme dragged sincere Christians all the way to the Supreme Court to resist paying for abortifacient drugs they considered immoral. Is he really able to look down his nose at President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, who puts people in jail for witchcraft?
After spying on the same reporters who spent years serving as his palace guard, is President Obama really the man to give African dictators a stern lecture about the importance of dissent and a free press? Who wants to listen to the "constitutional scholar" who keeps rewriting laws on the fly give a speech about the rule of law?
Obama's policies have changed America, but he's also a reflection of the country that twice elected him. We are all responsible for America's stature. We are all custodians of her principles. If a large number of us didn't abandon the spirit of free speech, religious tolerance, and respect for the property of others, our politicians wouldn't be able to trample on the letters of the law. We began with a proud heritage of independence and limited government. We gave it up, piece by piece, over the course of generations. In America, oppression only walks where liberty has first given ground. We created a path for power and corruption, not just by the noxious ideas we have supported, but by the impositions we were willing to accept. Those who crave power don't really care if you give it to them enthusiastically, tremble as you're intimidated into surrendering it, or let them have it because you don't think freedom is worth fighting for. The end result is much the same to an ideology that defines "progress" as the perpetual and irreversible expansion of government.
The United States isn't even in the top 10 on the index of economic freedom any more. Who are we to chastise other nations for corruption and moribund command economies? More importantly, how sweet is our voice when we sing the praises of individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and free-market capitalism? How does a nation afraid of risk and consequence teach anyone else to take chances in the pursuit of prosperity? A nation wrapped in micro-regulation offers no heroic narrative about chasing dreams and pursuing excellence.
America today is not a bright beacon to the rest of the world, because we no longer hold our light high and proud. Our legends speak of giants - inventors, explorers, and entrepreneurs - but our current thoughts are of decline, graceful demise, a soft landing after tumbling from great heights. Only 14 percent of respondents told a Rasumussen poll that they expect their children to enjoy a better life than they did. For God's sake, people, if that's what you really think about your potential, you shouldn't be surprised you ended up with Barack Obama as your President.
You're not going to do any better next time unless you start demanding better. That includes a demand for individual dignity and personal freedom that can only be made in concert with demands for less government. Those ideas are inextricably linked. If you believe in yourself, you don't need a bed in Obama's Hospice America. If you respect your fellow citizens, you don't need a titanic government managing every aspect of their lives. If you view the law as an instrument for assuring honest commerce between free men, you don't want a body of law so convoluted and riddled with special exemptions that nobody understands it.
"Speak softly and carry a big stick," Teddy Roosevelt advised on foreign policy. That's not just good advice for the use of military force. A strong and confident nation can speak softly and command attention, knowing that its principled reputation has already begun every conversation it enters. The gulf between who we are, and what we say, should be kept as narrow as possible. The best cannot afford to lack all conviction, or else history will be shaped by those filled with passionate, destructive intensity.