Human Events Blog

Obama Misquotes Lincoln

During his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, President Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln as follows:

I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States. That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work. That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a Government program.

(Emphasis mine.)  Leaving aside the tortured logic of describing a government takeover of health insurance, with the practical effect (and secret ultimate goal) of driving private companies out of the industry altogether, as “a reformed private market,” or a top-down federally controlled public education system as containing any meaningful amount of “competition,” Obama is deliberately misquoting Lincoln, in a way that completely changes the meaning of what the Great Emancipator said.

Charles C. Johnson at Big Government got the actual Lincoln quote from distinguished professor Harry Jaffa of Claremont McKenna College, who was able to recite it from memory.  The full quote is easily found on the Web, and presumably could have been located by President Obama’s immense royal retinue, if they had been interested in anything other than propaganda.

Here is what Lincoln actually said:

The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.

Obama didn’t merely paraphrase Lincoln’s words.  He completely inverted their meaning.  The government isn’t supposed to usurp the freedom of citizens when it thinks it can handle elements of their lives better than they can.  That’s a recipe for “soft tyranny,” since the ruling class gets to decide whether it can handle any given endeavor better than the people.  As Obama has demonstrated, the ruling class will make, and cling to, these judgments in defiance of all evidence to the contrary.  He did just promise to double down on his solar-energy boondoggles, didn’t he?

Lincoln said the government is supposed to act in the case of serious needs the people cannot adequately meet on their own, in most cases because they involve the use of compulsive force to correct injustice: “all crimes, misdemeanors, and non-performance of contracts,” as he put it.  He did list a few specific items that “exist independently of the injustice in the world,” some of which could have proved useful to President Obama, if he had been interested in quoting Lincoln accurately: “Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men’s property, are instances.”

Honest Abe was comfortable with the government spending money on “infrastructure,” but that’s entirely separate from questioning how much of our money the government should be spending.  Granting the duty of federal or state agencies to maintain roads and bridges does not mean granting limitless discretion for them to exercise as much power as they please in the endeavor.  Obama tried to advance a false dichotomy during the State of the Union by suggesting that anyone who supports the government building roads is some kind of hypocrite for demanding reduced government spending, right after his butchered Lincoln quote:

On the other hand, even my Republican friends who complain the most about Government spending have supported federally-financed roads, and clean energy projects, and federal offices for the folks back home.

Lincoln was very clear about the limits of legitimate government, in the same speech that our supposedly super-intelligent President is either lying about, or did not bother to read.  “In all that the people individually do as well for themselves,” Lincoln asserted, “government ought not to interfere.”  He didn’t say “interfere a little” or “interfere when the government thinks it has detected some unfairness.”

The government Obama presides over has gone far beyond “providing for the helpless young and afflicted.”  If vital welfare services for the truly destitute were the sum total of government spending, it would be a miniscule fraction of its current size.  That’s why assaults on limited-government conservatives as heartless misers who don’t care about the poor are so deeply disingenuous.  We have sailed very far beyond a “welfare state” for the needy.  The Obama “transformation” is all about promoting middle-class dependency.

The title of Lincoln’s speech, by the way, is “The Nature and Object of Government, with Special Reference to Slavery.”  Just try to imagine Barack Hussein Obama reading this passage out loud, without choking on the words:

Equality in society alike beats inequality, whether the latter be of the British aristocratic sort or of the domestic slavery sort. We know Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than hired laborers among us. How little they know whereof they speak!

There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us. Twenty-five years ago I was a hired laborer. The hired laborer of yesterday labors on his own account to-day, and will hire others to labor for him to-morrow. Advancement—improvement in condition—is the order of things in a society of equals. As labor is the common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great durable curse of the race.

Lincoln was talking about slavery, but there are many other forms of indenture.

Sign Up