Dear average American: It's all your fault
The president thinks national lack of ambition is causing our economic doldrums

Pete Souza/White House

President Obama meets with patrons during a lunch with small business owners in Allentown, Pa.

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  • Obama sees failure to support his agenda as failure of character @JonahNRO

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  • Obama and allies in Congress have been at the forefront of the effort to make Americans less competitive

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  • Obama blames American people for lack of national competitiveness @JonahNRO

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Congratulations, average American! It’s your turn to be blamed for President Obama’s—and America’s—problems.

This is the biggest honor you’ve won since Time magazine named “you” the Person of the Year.

Being the root cause of our dire national predicament puts you in some very august company indeed. You are joining the ranks of George W. Bush, the Japanese tsunami, the Arab Spring, Wall Street fat cats, and other luminaries, both living and merely anthropomorphized.

Last week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Obama explained, “We’ve been a little bit lazy over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted—‘Well, people would want to come here’—and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new businesses into America.”

"So, Obama thinks Americans lack ambition and are soft, but don’t you dare suggest that he also thinks they’re lazy."—Jonah Goldberg

The White House and its proxies insist that Obama wasn’t talking about Americans per se. He just meant we’ve been lazy about attracting foreign investment.

We’ll come back to that in a minute. For now, let’s take him at his word.

Still, you can understand the confusion. In September, the president reflected in an interview that America is “a great, great country that has gotten a little soft, and we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades.”

Shortly after that, he told rich donors at a fundraiser that “we have lost our ambition, our imagination and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam.”

So, Obama thinks Americans lack ambition and are soft, but don’t you dare suggest that he also thinks they’re lazy.

The point of all this is pretty obvious. Obama has a long-standing habit of seeing failure to support his agenda as a failure of character. The Democratic voters of western Pennsylvania refused to vote for him, he explained, because they were “bitter.” He told black Democrats lacking sufficient enthusiasm for his reelection to “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’.”

And in the context of the country’s economic doldrums, Obama sees a lack of ambition, softness, laziness, etc., in anyone who doesn’t support his agenda. He has spent several years now exhorting Americans about how we have to “win the future” by doing what he says. He has told us repeatedly that this is our “Sputnik moment” when all Americans must drop their selfish, cynical, or foolish objections to his program. People who disagree aren’t putting their “country first.”

He’s constantly stoking nationalistic and quasi-paranoid fears of China to goad Americans into supporting ever more “investments” in green energy and high-speed white elephants.

Indeed, China always seems to be on the man’s mind. He has even reportedly expressed envy for Chinese president Hu Jintao. “Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China,” the New York Times reported last year. “As one official put it, ‘No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.’” What’s so pathetic here—other than the obvious grotesqueness of envying a totalitarian tyrant—is that Obama’s objections are so baseless. Americans remain the most productive workers in the world. As Obama himself notes, we attract more foreign investment than any other country.

Meanwhile, it’s Obama and his allies in Congress who’ve been at the forefront of the effort to make America less competitive. Obama delayed free-trade deals for years, until he could lard them up with Big Labor giveaways. He has thrown roadblocks in front of a multibillion-dollar U.S.–Canada pipeline project, which many ambitious and imaginative people see as something like this generation’s Hoover Dam or Golden Gate Bridge. He did postpone those new job-killing smog regulations his EPA administrator wants, but he has also let everyone—including foreign investors—know that he’ll put them back on the agenda if he’s reelected.

In 2008, Obama said Bush’s deficit of $9 trillion was “unpatriotic.” Now he questions the patriotism of those who think the Obama deficit of $15 trillion argues against spending even more money we don’t have. And of course, there’s that giant unfunded disaster known as Obamacare, which Nancy Pelosi claimed was a “jobs bill” because it would lead to “an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.”

But, yes, by all means, let’s blame our lack of competitiveness on the American people.

Jonah Goldberg is a visiting fellow at AEI

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