One line from last night’s debate leapt out at me. It wasn’t a stumble amidst the cut and thrust of open debate. It was during President Obama’s closing statement—400 words that I’m guessing he and his staff crafted with painstaking care.

About half way through his summation, the president gave his vision of government in a nutshell. He said that “everything that I’ve tried to do, and everything that I’m now proposing for the next four years,” was “designed to make sure that the American people, their genius, their grit, their determination, is – is channeled.”

In that one word, channeled, President Obama distilled the problem. It isn’t his job to channel America’s genius, grit and determination anymore than it’s a traffic cop’s job to tell you where to go when you hop in your car. The police officer has an important role. Government has an important role. But it isn’t to channel.

That isn’t how you free a country for greatness; it’s how you suffocate it, by having politicians and bureaucrats endlessly picking winners and losers, inserting themselves into the middle of every market bigger than a lemonade stand. (Oh wait, they got to the lemonade stand, too.)

President Obama quickly went on to explain what he meant by the federal government channeling, but the gloss was cold comfort. The good parts of the gloss—“everybody’s getting a fair shot,” “everybody’s playing by the same rules”—had nothing to do with channeling. And the part that was all about channeling—the government making sure that “everybody’s getting a fair share, everybody’s doing a fair share”—was just same failed, slightly creepy vision of an all-embracing nanny state that has Europe on the brink.


  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynx_pardinus F. Lynx Pardinus

    In your own example, a police officer channels our genius, grit, and determination, so that that we don’t use it for criminal purposes. In another example, government channels the genius, grit, and determination of scientists so that they don’t use it for things like human cloning. You seem to be reading too much into Obama’s words.

    • Gumbotron

      F. Lynx Pardinus (Sorry if double post…meant to post as a reply) I think you fail to make an important distinction. Distinguish between negative and positive rights. The kind of “channeling” the police and government do in your benign examples is merely the enforcement of negative rights, not positive ones. But that’s perfectly consistent with Mr. Witt’s point, since it’s consistent to affirm that the government’s role is to enforce negative rights, while denying that they may enforce positive ones. The sense in which President Obama spoke of “channeling” clearly refers to the enforcement of positive rights. This isn’t some sort of controversial observation–it’s obvious from his own policies.

  • Lys

    Lynx, in the example the police officer doesn’t channel anything, nor do they in life. I think you missed the point of the article and of the president’s speech, neither of which had anything to do with limiting criminal or unethical activity.

  • Gumbotron

    @F_LynxPardinus:disqus I think you fail to make an important distinction. Distinguish between negative and positive rights. The kind of “channeling” the police and government do in your benign examples is merely the enforcement of negative rights, not positive ones. But that’s perfectly consistent with Mr. Witt’s point, since it’s consistent to affirm that the government’s role is to enforce negative rights, while denying that they may enforce positive ones. The sense in which President Obama spoke of “channeling” clearly refers to the enforcement of positive rights. This isn’t some sort of controversial observation–it’s obvious from his own policies.

  • Pingback: Mr. President, it isn’t your job to ‘channel’ America’s genius, grit and determination « THE BLACK KETTLE()

  • Deborah

    Obama: “everybody’s playing by the same rules”. Who’s rules? His? Coming from the president of the United States, that sounds like Dictatorship.