May 8 2013

Novel Advice to Graduates: Don't Be Ambitious

Charlotte Hays

Civic education in America took a hit on Sunday when President Obama, giving the commencement address at The Ohio State University, chose citizenship as his theme. The country's Founders trusted citizens with "awesome authority," he told the assembled graduates. Really?

Actually, the Founders distrusted us, at least in our collective capacity.

That is how Roger Pilon begins his must-read column this morning in the Wall Street Journal.

As noted yesterday on Inkwell, President Obama's speech was a paean to big government that included urging students to close their ears (their minds!) to other viewpoints. That would mean not listening to folks like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, who recognized the propensity of government, if unchecked, to become tyrannical. But Pilon noticed something else disturbing about the president’s speech: the president of the United States disparaged ambition.

Ambition, of course, is what makes people build companies large and small and create jobs for others. Ambition to succeed and make a better life is why people used to come to these shores. Ambition, in short, was an engine of American greatness. But the president finds individual ambition unhelpful to his vision of government as "the one thing we all belong to."

Pilon writes:

  …. "The Founders left us the keys to a system of self-government," [President Obama] went on, "the tool to do big and important things together that we could not possibly do alone." And what "big and important things" cannot be done except through government? On the president's list are railroads, the electrical grid, highways, education, health care, charity and more. One imagines a historical vision reaching as far back as the New Deal. Americans "chose to do these things together," he added, "because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition."

Notice that twice now Mr. Obama has invoked "individual ambition," and not as a virtue. For other targets, he next counseled the graduates against the "voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works."

The irony here should not go unnoticed: The opponents that the president disparages are the same folks who tried to save the country from one of the biggest pieces of gum now in the works: Mr. Obama's own health-care insurance program, which today is filling many of its backers with dread as it moves toward full implementation in a matter of months.

With core beliefs such as the ones expressed in the Ohio speech, the president can pivot to jobs every day of the week and we'll still face economic stagnation and high unemployment. A man who doesn't understand the drive to succeed outside of government work can't understand what needs to be done to turn 'round our economy. 

Pilon concludes:

A more inspiring message might have urged graduates not to reject their own country, where for two centuries far more than a lucky few have prospered under limited constitutional government—and even more would today if that form of government were restored.

We must return to the good old days when government belonged to us--not the other way around.

 

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