Barack Obama has set his sights on something bigger than winning a second term as president of the declining and much-maligned (not least by himself) superpower known as the United States of America. He now aims to end “the injustice, the outrage,” and, not to mince words, the pestilential global scourge of — hold your breath — “modern slavery.”
The president announced this monumental new undertaking in a speech yesterday to the Clinton Global Initiative. The CGI is an “invitation only” annual gabfest that extracts $20,000 from each of thousands of big-thinking and apparently sleep-challenged invitees who regard the old gasbag Bill Clinton as some kind of an intellectual colossus. This is how Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard described the organization in an article on Feb. 27 of this year:
CGI is the kind of charity that students of Clinton’s career would expect him to lead: It hires a legion of over-schooled high-achievers and collects mountains of money and, instead of giving the money to poor people, hospitals, doctors, nurses, food banks, or stuff like that, spends it on an annual conference in which high-achievers talk for long periods of time about what it would be like if they were going to do stuff like that. It is an organization devoted to talk.
A perfect fit, you might say. This is the organization and the audience that our 44th president addressed in picking up long-disused cudgels of 19th century liberals who championed the (real) anti-slavery cause. Let us leave aside the fact that the 19th century liberals were diametrically opposed in almost every important way from the 21st century mountebanks who call themselves liberals or progressives.
Fortunately, there was at least a single skeptic in yesterday’s audience in New York.
In this great audience of notables — including many heads of state or former heads of states, CEO’s of major corporations, assorted billionaires like Warren Buffett, leaders of major foundations, and other riff-raff — someone dared to tut-tut at the phrase “modern slavery.” Upon hearing this, the president immediately added (and I am giving him the benefit of the doubt in assuming this wasn’t part of the script that he read from the teleprompter):
Now, I do not use that word, “slavery,” lightly. It evokes obviously one the most painful chapters in our nation’s history.
But it must be said that the president’s use of the word “slavery” — like his use of other words and phrases such as “millionaires and billionaires,” “affordable” (as in health care), “investment” (as in Solyndra), or “transparency” (as in bills that run to 2,700 pages in length that nobody bothers to read before they are passed) — is highly flexible and more than a little slippery. This is how he described “slavery” in his CGI speech:
But around the world there’s no denying the awful reality. When a man, desperate for work, toiling, for little or no pay, beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.
Far better — if you get the drift of modern welfare state progressivism — if people do not work under a slave-driving organization such as Walmart or the small business owned by some relative and operate instead under an entirely different yoke — that of learned helplessness — which enables them to think that they really can live from the crumbs of the rich man’s table.
Now there is the real “trickle-down economics.” It is none other than government-decided redistribution — which has the perverse effects of simultaneously encouraging joblessness, helplessness, and hopelessness (not to mention the widespread obesity among the benefit-rich but nonworking poor) who might otherwise follow the example of hard work and individual initiative that has led so many others to greater freedom, prosperity, and happiness — coming from earned success.
According to Obama, there are “more than 20 million victims” of inhuman “human trafficking” around the world. Now I have no idea (any more than Barack Obama himself does) whether that figure is high, low, or right on the money.
But if I had been captured by the White House Communication staff and forced into involuntary slavery as one of Obama’s speechwriters, I would have told the president he should have multiplied the number of supposed victims by a factor of ten. Why?
Well, first of all, who could possibly prove you wrong — and this in an administration that has never been overly-worried about distorting the truth. But more importantly, you’ve got to come up with something better than 0.3% of the world’s population of more than 7 billion people — which is what you get with just 20 million or so victims.
In his speech, Obama showed how out of touch he is with the American experience — and indeed the global experience — in not recognizing the real well-springs of prosperity in giving people the freedom and the opportunity to pursue happiness (and individual exchange for mutual benefit) in their own ways.
Now that was the speech that Mitt Romney gave to the same group yesterday.
His was incomparably the better (as well as the shorter) speech.