Sunday, October 7, 2012

Barack Obama: A "New Economic Patriotism"; Not So New

    Since September 27, the President has used the phrase "new economic patriotism" seven times according to White House transcripts of his remarks and speeches.  The most recent was on Friday, October 5th, and was promptly tweeted out by the Obama campaign:

    Much has already been made of the Orwellian sound of the phrase, as well as the audacity of linking patriotism to his own economic policies which are far from universally accepted. The president did not coin the phrase "economic patriotism".  It first appeared in 2005 according to an article at EuroTopics , coined by former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.  It appeared in connection with Barack Obama in the title of an article at The Root back in February 2011, and as recently as August 2012, co-chairman of President Obama’s campaign Ted Strickland hit Mitt Romney for his lack of "economic patriotism."  But the term struck me because of something I read in the recently uncovered course outline of Professor Barack Obama's  Constitutional Law III class at the University of Chicago which I wrote about last Wednesday.

    The Introduction section of the outline, entitled "What is Equality (Thomson)", was apparently based on a rather obscure book published in 1949 by British historian David Thomson called "Equality." Although the book appears to be a general discussion of "equality" and how it has been interpreted over the years in a political context in relation to legal, religious, and economic considerations among others, the term "economic equality" shows up on the first page of the book and appears a total of 32 times in the whole book.  It is noteworthy then that the last point in the Con Law III Introduction outline is:
(10) Centralized Gov’t = development and implementation of egalitarianism.
    For someone who ran for and was elected President of the United States within a decade of teaching this class, this point in the outline seems especially significant in view of where Thomson takes the discussion of equality in chapter 5, which is entitled "Economic Equality."  Thomas writes [emphasis mine]:
Many who would stoutly defend with their dying breath the rights of liberty and equality described above (as would many English or American liberals) shrink back with horror from the notion of economic egalitarianism.  There is no more fundamental task, in any modern discussion of equality,  than to discover why the ideal of equality, so generally accepted in the legal, religious and political arrangements of the modern democratic state, is still so stoutly resisted in its applications to economic life.  Here is the very crux of our whole argument.
    I have not read the whole book (yet), so I cannot say for sure if Thomson is advocating for government-enforced economic equality or just explicating the arguments behind it.  But Professor Obama chose this book as a basis for the introduction for this class on Constitutional Law, so it is not unreasonable to assume it had a significant impact on the development of his views, or at least served to help express those views to his students.  The president famously if inelegantly voiced his views to Joe the Plumber as "spread the wealth around," and now more recently and elegantly as a "new economic patriotism."  But both reflect that final point in the introductory outline above, "Centralized Gov’t = development and implementation of egalitarianism," where equality seems to focus more on outcomes than opportunities.

    When a person swears to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States, it is reasonable that voters be told what his views are, or were, and how they developed and changed over the years.  When that person actually taught the Constitution in a major university, that information should be widely and readily available.  Instead, information is still surfacing four years after the fact.

    While these views of President Obama are certainly not new or surprising now that we are more than three and a half years into his first term, the fact that this outline and its sources were not available to the American public in 2008 represents yet another failure on the part of the media.  Can this old outline shed light on Barack Obama's call for a "new economic patriotism"?  That largely remains to be seen, but at least now the media and the electorate have one more resource to help make that determination.

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