By Representative Paul Ryan
President Obama recently made a stunning remark about business owners in America's free enterprise economy. After dismissing the hard work and ingenuity of successful individuals, the president said, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Who? Ultimately, the government.
Yet this was only the latest version of the president's four-year disparagement of American entrepreneurialism. In 2008, then-candidate Obama said he intended to "spread the wealth around" -- not his own wealth through voluntary transactions, of course, but the earnings belonging to American families through coercive redistribution. In April 2009, he claimed that the founding principles on which America was built are too weak to withstand 21st century pressures. He called our free economy a house built upon sand, destroyed when the financial storm of 2008 hit. America must be reconstructed, he asserted, upon a "new foundation" of "pillars" hewn from the solid rock of big government.
The agenda he promoted demonstrated in a practical way what his rhetoric meant. He pushed unprecedented stimulus spending, a government-driven health care overhaul, further distortions in the U.S. financial sector, an expensive cap-and-trade system to restrict American energy, and more. His transformative proposals were based on a vision of a government-centered society that conflicts with the foundational principles of freedom and equality rooted in our Declaration of Independence. To support his expansive new vision of government without limits, the administration sent Congress four massive annual budgets that called for crushing levels of debt. The Democrat-controlled Senate, cognizant of the political peril of voting for such reckless spending, taxes, and new debt, gave up on budgeting altogether. The U.S. Senate unanimously rejected Obama's budgets, without passing any budget of its own for over three years.
The failed leadership and the dismal results from a president of such great promise have been disappointing. The moment of truth in front of us is of course not entirely his fault. Both political parties have failed the American people over the years, and both political parties have -- time and again -- prioritized political gain at the expense of principle. Thankfully, we have a historic opportunity in the year ahead to chart a new course, build a broad coalition for reforms that apply our timeless principles to today's most pressing challenges. It begins by reclaiming the core of what makes America exceptional: our commitment to freedom.
Economic freedom empowers entrepreneurs who have ideas and imagination, investors who take risks, and workers who hone their skills and offer their labor. Our exceptional country was built with the ingenuity, capital, and sweat contributed by individuals who risked it all to provide a brighter future for their families. America was founded on the shared belief that government's primary role is to safeguard our God-given freedoms, as individual initiative and a strong civil society are what make prosperity possible. America is exceptional for this very reason: No other country in the history of mankind was founded on such a powerful idea.
The president's policies have stifled this commitment to economic freedom, which has resulted in millions of Americans facing painful economic hardships. In the president's revealing rhetoric, we gain insight into why the economy remains so anemic and the future looks so bleak: Success is a function of government beneficence, not individual initiative.
His outlook not only makes for terrible economics, it also reveals moral confusion. The question that separates the prevailing sentiment in Washington from that of our Founders is a moral one: freedom and individual initiative, or big government alternatives?
President Obama's comments reflect an ideology that casts the private sector as an arena driven by greed and indifference to the well-being of others. In government-directed economies, the collective takes priority over the individual. The moral ideal is equal results.