Fellow blogger Patrick O’Hannigan (aka, The Paragraph Farmer) tipped me off recently to this piece of his in the American Spectator. It’s worth reading not only for content, but for Patrick’s unique gift at creating rich, funny, take-no-prisoners prose. He writes:
Paul Kangor noticed a conflation of language from the American and French Revolutions in President Obama’s Inaugural Address… skat[ing] past the centrality of life as an inalienable right.
I read that last week and decided it was too important to toss off with a quickie-link, ‘me-too’ post. I sensed that its importance was far larger than just the causes to which the term ‘life’ is often assigned these days, e.g., abortion, stem cells, ‘right-to-die’, etc. It seemed, and still seems, fundamental… ground-shiftingly, earth-shakingly important: the kind of ‘small’ thing historians tend to look back on, decades later, and say:
There. That speech. Can you see it, now? That was the philosophical and theological turning-point. That was the fork-in-the-road. That was when the promised ‘change’ really began. That one missing word, where it always has been but was not. It was the keystone idea supporting so many other things that we once took for granted. If only more folks had perceived its import at the time…
- “For us, they* packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.”
- “Time and again these* men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.”
- “We will not apologize for our way of life.”
*(“the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”)
In each case, he seems to have been referring to life in the sense of life-style and economic opportunity — important concepts, to be sure, but hardly representative of how ‘life’ as a word was treated by our founders, much less the fullness of life itself in the eternal, biblical sense. Given the context, here’s where the word ‘life’ seems conspicuously absent:
“We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.“
…in the [French] Declaration of the Rights of Man, the emphasis on “life” is replaced with “equality,” as it was in the new president’s Inaugural Address. In the French manifesto, the word “life” is non-existent, as are the words “God” and “created” or “Creator.”
Kangor is onto something critical. Obama asserts a right to equality, full stop. Not equality at life’s inception (that would beg many questions), but equality of result, as defined by… well… whomever holds power.
It is an old leftist saw and it is noxious, though subtly so. Marx theorized about equality of result. Lenin, Mao and others tried it. And to borrow another leftist saw: “People died.” Lots of them: tens of millions, at least.
What’s wrong, at the high-concept level, with Robin Hood? With socking it to the filthy, greedy, undeserving rich and bringing up the always-virtuous and industrious hard-luck poor just a bit?
Answer: Nothing, if that simplistic picture represented reality. Nothing, if one has a static view of society. Nothing, if one cares not for history. Nothing, if one is, perhaps, in third grad. Nothing… in the eternity of God’s perfect justice… among his creatures, all of whom he hopes will make the choice to turn to him… in the eternity of his creation… when each reaches out from his heart, without coercion.
What’s wrong with it — economically, morally, legally, socially, practically — in a Godless, earthly vision of government-imposed ‘social justice’ (aka, socialism) is more than it’s possible to describe in one post. Short take: it’s antithetical to equal treatment.
‘Equality-full-stop’ also fits far too comfortably with BHO’s easy acceptance of racist efforts at social engineering such as this one from Robert Reich. It harkens back to another lying, murdering 20th-century tyrant usually accused of being on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Communists but who shared far more in terms of the powers and principalities he allowed to guide his other Reich
Throughout history, the false and wholly un-Biblical promise of the politically ambitious, tilting at the perennial windmill of cosmic justice, has been that all will (or should) be totally equal on this earth. And, every time, it has collided with the simple fact that this world is broken and in need of a savior outside of itself. It has ignited envy, jealousy, hatred and murder.
One needn’t even go as far as Jesus’ remark that the poor will always be with us to understand why this is so. Go to Humans #3 and #4: Cain and Abel — the former having slain the latter (his brother) because Cain felt envious of Abel’s standing with God. There have been countless pieces of well-meaning legislation since then that sought to create secular equality of result that resulted, each time, in a mess.
One of the unique things about the American experiment is that, at its inception anyway, the founders steered with great care between two poles, asking God’s guidance as they did so. On the one hand, they avoided the temptation (to which the French fell) to create equality of result (the leftist error). On the other hand, they avoided constitutionally (though it would take years to play out in practice) the temptation to take race and class and other unchangeable attributes of the human person and fix them in the stone of some transitory economic or social order (the error of the truly paleo-conservative).
What remains ominously open in BHO’s remarks, is what the heck ‘all’ (people) means. He gives no clear definition or even well-understood, time-tested allusions to definitions of what constitutes a person… of who’s ‘included’ (a favorite lefty word, that one: ‘inclusion’). And that begs the question of when life begins, when it ends, and what kinds of lives are really worth living in the eyes of those who get to decide. What BHO also seems to shirk in his speech, is the question of how any benefit of the doubt around those questions should be slanted (e.g., towards the Reagan ‘don’t kick it’ principle? Or to something else with a more, how-shall-we-say, ‘pragmatic’ bent.
And furthermore, who ultimately gets to make such calls? I.e., what is the ultimate reference and source of authority on such perennially sensitive questions? Natural law? (Don’t count on it: go look up the Clarence Thomas hearings to see how that concept is roundly derided these days.) Scripture? (BHO mentions it. That doesn’t mean he believes, much less reveres it.) Tradition? Unlikely. This is, after all, Mr. “Change”)
Or perhaps what he means is a definition of ‘life’ rooted in his other references to the word. A definition that centers on the pursuit of happiness by those who can do so without being too much of a burden on other folks pursuit of the exact same thing. A definition of ‘life’ rooted in expediency and current fashion. (The ultimate in chronological snobbery.)
I’ll leave you with this — a picture of the ‘Yes-to-Life’ balloons in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, and a link to Pope Benedict’s remarks there. Daughter ‘Sunny’ was there (the picture is not hers, though, from the angle, she must have been standing not far from here). Appropriately, PB XVI was talking about life:
“Euthanasia is a false solution to the drama of suffering, a solution that is not worthy of man. The real answer cannot be, in fact, to give death, as ‘gentle’ as this may be, but to testify to the love that helps us to face pain and agony in a humane way.”
If only BHO were so clear about his own, tired and tried views…