Monday, September 07, 2009

President Hopes Children Will Wash Hands

When addressing school children today, Obama said today “I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well…”

That is the sort of thing we expect our mothers to say, but not the President.

But maybe it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. After all, the confusion between motherhood and statecraft has been a recurring motif in contemporary political discourse, as I argue in my book The Twilight of Liberalism.

Nor is this tendency limited to contemporary political discourse. When Diocletian published his Edict of 301, mandating the persecution of Christians and destroying the few remaining liberties of the old Roman republic, he justified it by referring to himself and his associates as “the watchful parents of the whole human race.” Contemporary governments are increasingly following the pattern of Diocletian by acting, not simply as the guardians of law and order, but as Mother to their citizens.

President Barack Obama is no exception to this tendency. Don’t forget that in his convention acceptance speech last year he as well as invoked the mantle of motherhood when he said,

“[G]overnment] should . . . protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology. . . . Our government should work for us. . . . That’s the promise of America . . . the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.”

Nice as this sounds, do we really want the federal government to be so concerned about the minutia of our lives, down to our toys and our health? Do we really want to live in the type of society where everyone is everybody else’s keeper and the President himself takes a concern in whether or not our children wash their hands?

I submit that most Americans do not. Just as the impulse to be a faithful dog is ennobling in a dog but demeaning when exhibited by a man, so the mothering instinct is nurturing in a mother but tyrannical and totalitarian when assumed by the state. And that is just as true if the totalitarianism in question is of the caring totalitarianism of Obama.

Further Reading


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