The President's Roanoke Speech
By Arnold Kling
The president’s sermon struck a nerve in part because it marked a sharp departure from the traditional Democratic criticism of financiers and big corporations, instead hectoring the people who own dry cleaners and nail salons, car repair shops and restaurants
Postrel criticizes the President in light of Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity.
The Left’s disdain for civil society is thus driven above all not by a desire to empower the state without limit, but by a deeply held concern that the mediating institutions in society — emphatically including the family, the church, and private enterprise — are instruments of prejudice, selfishness, backwardness, and resistance to change, and that in order to establish our national life on more rational grounds, the government needs to weaken and counteract them.
I do not think that people on the Left would agree that this is what they believe. How might we reword Levin’s characterization in order to make it more likely to pass what Bryan calls the ideological Turing test?
Perhaps: We (on the left) believe that the family, the church, and private enterprise are important institutions. We believe that government’s role is to strengthen those institutions through proper regulation and provision of public goods. We do not resent the institutions of civil society, but we do reject the view that those institutions can thrive with only minimal government.
I do not think that it helps to characterize the Left as saying that the government “needs to weaken” the institutions of civil society. However, I think it is fair to raise a concern that the policies of the Left will have the effect of weakening those institutions.
I am less inclined than Levin or Postrel to read much into the Roanoke speech in terms of political philosophy or policy implications. My view of the Roanoke speech is that, as I wrote 16 months ago,
[the President] looks to me like somebody pouting in the wake of a blow to his ego.
My suspicion is that his need for adulation is not being satisfied and has not been for some time. That accounts for the ill-tempered tone that came out in Roanoke.
[UPDATE: I note Elizabeth Warren writing
I believe in small businesses. They’re the heart and soul of our economy. They create jobs and opportunities for the future.
Pointer from Mark Thoma, and note that many commentators saw in the President’s Roanoke speech an echo of a similar attack by Warren on businessmen’s ingratitude.
I have argued that some of the very regulations that Warren favors, such as the consumer financial protection board, will end up favoring big banks, because competitive innovations will be stifled in the name of “consumer protection.” This is a classic case in which I argue that big government is inherently anti-small-business, while she believes that with sufficient moral authority we can have big government that does not tip the scales in favor of big business. I do not see either of us changing our minds soon.]