In his first inaugural address in January 1981, President Ronald Reagan uttered one of his more memorable quotes, encapsulating in one sentence the essence of what was — at least back then — one of the basic pillars of the Republican philosophy. He said, “Government in not the solution to our problems; government is the problem. ” Reagan’s statement was hardly a call for violence; and at the time no one construed it that way. His remarks reflected the simple reality that for him and millions of his countrymen who had voted for him, government had become way too big and needed to be trimmed in order to protect individual liberty and to begin solving the problems facing the nation.
Now, three decades later, another president appears to take such exception to those who voice criticism of the government, as to charge that such words amount to nothing less than inciting violence and border on sedition. In remarks last week at the University of Michigan commencement, President Barack Obama extolled the inherent and expansive virtues of all things government, even as he was sharply and pointedly critical of those who criticize government as being “inherently bad.” Such talk, Obama clearly intimated, can lead “extremists” to commit acts of violence.
Had Obama been in a similar position of authority in January 1981, would he have thus accused Ronald Reagan of inciting to violence during his inaugural address? In order to be consistent, Obama would have had to similarly charge his predecessor; and he would have been just as wrong and off-base then as he is in 2010 to blame those who are critical of Big Government for the actions of a small number of criminals who commit acts of violence.