There is a series of statues in Prague that serves as a memorial to the victims of communism. This series is called the Pomník Obětem Komunismu. It was erected twelve years after the Velvet Revolution, which was the historic pulling away of the Iron Curtain from a Czechoslovakia too long obscured by the dark powers of Stalinism.
Today, Pomník Obětem Komunismu reminds citizens of all nations of the brutal oppression and loss of hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in the dark days of totalitarian despotism when the Soviet Union was the undisputed Big Brother of Eastern Europe. It can be found at the base of Petrin Hill in the Czech Republic, and it is, indeed, a visually powerful work of art.
In fact, out of all the many amazing things I have seen in extensive travels, this memorial has impacted me in a way that many other, similarly focused works have not. I’ve thought about it often, and as a teacher, I’ve even used images of it when addressing themes in George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984.
However, I did not ever expect an American president to make me recall this memorial as President Obama did last week in a campaign speech extolling the virtues of government sponsored group work, the illusory power of the individual.
First, I need for you to imagine a long flight of stairs cutting up a green hill. On those stairs walks a bronze man with an expression of misery. His body is naked and vulnerable. But what you notice most is the same man a few steps further up the hill. This version is cracked. Now he is missing a limb, two limbs. Now he is not himself, not a man, not a whole human being. Now he is broken.
The system under which this man—and the many real people he symbolizes--lost his very sense of self was an insidious one built in parallel to the ideology of double-think used to destroy Orwell’s fictitious Winston Smith in the aforementioned 1984. Under its banner, the government was glorified, and the worker became an insignificant drone in a living hive focused on collective perpetuity.
So why did President Obama recall this memorial to my mind?
I do not think that President Obama is a communist. (In truth, British author George Orwell was a democratic socialist, not a capitalist.) But I do think the president’s speech shows an ideological bent counter to my understanding of the United States.
For example, when praising the higher income tax rates President Bill Clinton imposed in a time of prosperity on higher wage earners, President Obama said, “We created 23 million new jobs… We created a lot of millionaires.”
This simple statement, which has not garnered much attention from any press, is the most shocking to me. It puts “we”—which is the government per the president’s use—into an almost God-like position, shaping the financial fortunes of the chosen few, as if it is through the power of the state that men are made.
This is not the idea upon which the American system is built.
Rather, our Founding Fathers formed a government to deal with collective affairs of state in a way that keeps the individual sacrosanct. Voters dictate policy to the government and then consent to fund that government’s initiatives, not the other way around.
Therefore, “we” in Obama’s sense of the word never create jobs or millionaires.
People in the nineties were allowed to pursue happiness as they saw fit to create their own wealth. They then gave a percentage of their earned income to a government that worked for them to maintain the infrastructure and hire public servants needed for the country to run smoothly, not the other way around.
In other words, the private sector creates jobs, is responsible for millionaires, and employs everyone who works for the government, not the other way around.
President Obama then said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Again, this foreign sentiment strips an American of the right to any contributions made to his own system. It suggests “somebody else” dictates success. Therefore, no one should have pride in ownership, no sense of accomplishment, no right to the forging of his or her own destiny because the individual isn’t important.
To visualize this worldview is to visualize the Czech statues. To think this way is to deny that some individuals squander every advantage; others press even the most miniscule of opportunities, and all free people have the power to choose.
Furthermore, if one reads the president’s entire speech made in Roanoke, there is a great deal of class demagoguery couched in contradictory populist platitudes (or double speak), which suggests all good comes from government programs, not the other way around.
My favorite sentiment toward the end of all this blather is the promise that the president said he has fulfilled, which is to wake up every morning to think about how to make “your life a little bit better.”
I suppose he is deciding which of us precious few drones shall have jobs in his command economy. Perhaps he is choosing which of us is allowed to walk up that government-built staircase on the green hill of success for certainly we cannot get to the top without him or improve our lives on our own.
Truly, it must be nice for him to be such a powerful individual in this country where only he can stand alone.