President Obama's "You didn't build that" speech has been so throughly hashed over now that it might eventually be seen as the defining moment in the presidential campaign. The speech and Mitt Romney's reaction to it draw about as clear a bright line between the candidates' positions and overall approach as can be drawn. I think Charles Krauthammer has done the best job of explaining what that line is:
The ultimate Obama fallacy, however, is the conceit that belief in the value of infrastructure — and willingness to invest in its creation and maintenance — is what divides liberals from conservatives.
More nonsense. Infrastructure is not a liberal idea, nor is it particularly new. The Via Appia was built 2,300 years ago. The Romans built aqueducts, too. And sewers. Since forever, infrastructure has been consensually understood to be a core function of government.
The argument between left and right is about what you do beyond infrastructure. It’s about transfer payments and redistributionist taxation, about geometrically expanding entitlements, about tax breaks and subsidies to induce actions pleasing to central planners. It’s about free contraceptives for privileged students and welfare without work — the latest Obama entitlement-by-decree that would fatally undermine the great bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. It’s about endless government handouts that, ironically, are crowding out necessary spending on, yes, infrastructure.
Our very clear choice this election: The individual or the collective. Neither is ever in complete control of a society -- there is always a mixture of automonous effort and mutual obligations. The question is whether one or the other is too ascendant and if we can or should therefore put a renewed emphasis on the other. I think it would be pretty hard to argue that pathological individuality has been a problem over the past few decades. Voters this fall will decide, among other things, whether the statist collectivism of what Krauthammer calls the Leviathan state has gone too far. I hope they will but fear they won't.
Pat Sajak of "Wheel of Fortune" fame, by the way, has written a blog post saying the turning point will be bad news for Obama. It's gotten a lot of play on other sites:
It's as if President Obama climbed into a tank, put on his helmet, talked about how his foray into Cambodia was seared in his memory, looked at his watch, misspelled "potato" and pardoned Richard Nixon all in the same day.