On Sunday, President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to graduates of Ohio State University, urging them to trust the state and view government as a friend.
As for those individuals who believe the citizenry forms the only barrier between the government and tyranny? Well, said the President, the future will be a whole lot brighter if you don’t listen to all that negative, paranoid nonsense.
We, the people, chose to do these things together — because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.
Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
We have never been a people who place all of our faith in government to solve our problems; we shouldn’t want to. But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. And as citizens, we understand that it’s not about what America can do for us; it’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government. And, class of 2013, you have to be involved in that process.
Much of the President’s speech following those remarks seemed to “gum up” the spirit of what he’d just said, as Obama almost immediately seemed to contradict his own assertion that government isn’t a sinister, aloof power to be feared.
Decrying government corruption as a systemic problem that produces “lobbyists who set the agenda,” “well-connected” politicians who get “special treatment” and “policies detached from what middle-class families face,” he held forth individual optimism and openhearted trust in government as a palliative. If everybody would just stop viewing government with such doggone skepticism, government wouldn’t be so reviled, nor so welcoming of elitist corruption — despite the fact that many of government’s problems are systemic.
In other words, Obama asked Buckeye grads — and the rest of the Nation — to help government operate in a closed system, one in which the governed approve of those who govern. Because everything in a closed system — whether a governing tyranny, an abusive family or a religious cult — is perfect, so long as all parties buy in and no one breaks through the isolating bubble to see that system’s operations from the outside. And despite the President’s remarks, that, indeed, is sinister.