Ambrose: President uses sound principle to push a political sneak attack 

In many ways, President Barack Obama’s commencement speech at the University of Michigan was perfectly reasonable.

But when he said that “government is us,” you began to see his political purposes at work, because while those words may seem to constitute a warm and fuzzy thought, they confuse “us” with some “majority” of a moment and too easily suggest that majorities are beyond criticism.

For all its levelheadedness, the speech was in some ways a political sneak attack.

The president, for instance, took a swing at those who contend government is “inherently bad,” saying that such assertions are becoming more central to our discourse. It seems to me what most conservatives are now saying is something different.

The issue is one of degree, and the fear is that Obama’s policies are going too far.

But wait, says Obama: Using terms of overstatement can rule out needed compromise, and one such term is “socialist.” Well, not if the reference is to the highly regulated, highly taxed, intrusive systems of Western Europe. We are not there yet, but is Obama aiding and abetting something European-like? I do not see how anyone can argue that it’s hyperbolic to say so.

Reciting some of the ways government serves the public good, Obama mentioned police, roads and research at public universities, then said too little government regulation of Wall Street “led to the collapse of our entire economy.”

What’s being left out here are the destructive, congressionally endorsed policies of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal schemes prodding banks to extend mortgages to people who could not afford them, and local policies making houses more expensive.

Government was part of the problem and has since proffered dubious solutions that could give us another crash.

Back to that idea that “government is us”: Sorry, but government is never all of us. Majorities can be tyrannical, and it’s because of that possibility that our Constitution limits the federal government.

Obama quoted President Thomas Jefferson as saying governments must change as society changes. But that does not mean it’s OK to otherwise ignore its clear meaning and start making things up as we go along. And it does not mean that the times demand ever-bigger government or that essential compromise means avoiding a word that may help vivify the truth.

Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former Washington opinion writer and editor of two dailies. He can be reached at


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