There was a time when President Obama felt the need to hide behind Ronald Reagan's view of the proper role of government. "I've never believed," he said repeatedly on the campaign trail in 2010, "that government has all the answers to our problems." Nor is it the government's role "to create jobs or prosperity." Rather, it is "the drive and ingenuity of our entrepreneurs" and "the skill and dedication of our workers" that comprise "the main engine" of job creation in America.
Those days are long gone. At some point during the 2012 campaign Obama dispensed with these pleasant-sounding, if insincere riffs, and replaced them with the most ambitious Progressive vision we have seen in nearly a century. At its core is an unbounded faith in the wisdom of government to do all things and -- by picking winners and penalizing losers -- to guide us unfailingly through the challenges of life.
This hubristic confidence in government dominated both his second Inaugural Address and last night's State of the Union speech. When it comes to creating jobs and prosperity, the president explained, Uncle Sam is the indispensable partner to America's entrepreneurs. Even as he decried special-interest loopholes in the tax code that benefit the rich, the president devoted much of his speech to unveiling a list of entirely new special interest provisions that would further his Progressive vision.
A partial list of these new government-knows-best initiatives includes:
- 15 new "manufacturing innovation institutes" that will create "global centers of high-tech jobs" and lead to the next revolution in manufacturing.
- Funneling royalties from oil and gas drilling to a new government "Energy Security Trust" that will discover the next generation of technology to power cars and trucks with something other than fossil fuels.
- New government efforts to discover ways to make buildings more energy efficient.
- A Fix-It First initiative to identify the very best 70,000 infrastructure projects that deserve to receive federal funding immediately (note: the president resisted the urge to use the disgraced term "shovel-ready projects").
- An offer that financial institutions simply can't refuse: Uncle Sam will help them determine which aspiring home owners are "responsible" enough to receive loans.
- Government experts will design "high-quality" pre-school programs for every child in America, even though a government study recently determined that the heralded Head Start program is failing the 900,000 low-income children it purports to help each year.
- Despite the thriving new market in online and low-cost college options, the government will now issue a scorecard to help parent and students evaluate which colleges offer the best education for the money.
- New government rules to determine what employers must pay their female workers, and a new, $9 per-hour minimum wage (up from the current level of $7.25) that will lift the working poor out of poverty even as the new health law adds thousands to the cost of hiring these same entry-level workers.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican response painted the polar opposite vision. The "opportunity to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life," he said, "isn't bestowed on us from Washington." Rather, "our free-enterprise economy is the source of our middle-class prosperity." The government is similarly lacking in solving difficult social problems, which, Rubio argues, stem from "the moral breakdown in our society." The answer to these challenges, he concluded, "lie primarily in our families and our faiths, not our politicians."
-Mike Franc is the vice president of government studies at the Heritage Foundation, where Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is vice president of American Studies and director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics.
First appeared in USA Today.