Obama is not my Daddy

ObamaBotI say mean things about our government. I say that it steals from the poorest and gives to the richest. I say that it shakes with one hand but punches with the other. I say that if the world is a schoolyard, our government is its bully.

If you think of the U.S. government as a human being – say, as a father – you might bark back at me. Just as you would if I criticized your real father.

“Love him, or leave him alone,” I’m told. “What has he done to you?”

They tell me I am his fortunate son. His arms protect me and lift me up. He gave me gifts: Education at 6. Driving at 16. Voting at 18. Drinking at 21. (I play with some of these gifts more than others.)

If the government is my father, then I am indeed ungrateful. When he comes back from work with dirty hands, I insist that he wash. When he gives me a curfew, I protest. When he orders me to wash the dishes, I refuse.

Father, forgive me. I am a spoiled child.

Maybe you have more filial piety than me. Maybe you’ve even joined in father’s business.

But, so long as we think (or feel) that the government relates to us as a parent, we lose. Our parent may have love to match Buddha, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are children. It doesn’t reverse the relationship of power, which has us submitting to decisions from above, on the principle that Father Knows Best.

Obama is not my Daddy.

If anything, I am Obama’s Daddy. And so are you. After all, democratic government exists to serve us; we do not exist to serve it.

But let me go a step further.

Obama is our robot worker.

The U.S. government should not be treated as an individual human (though its behavior can imitate one). We agree to this social contract because it is capable, in its pure form, of improving opportunities for everyone. It has objectives, and, much like a system or a machine, it has mechanisms designed to achieve those objectives.

As the employers of a robot worker, we have responsibilities. If its democratic mechanisms break, we must rebuild them. If they produce negative outcomes (e.g. tyranny instead of freedom), we must draw up blueprints for new ones. But we must make sure to only approve new mechanisms if they help us achieve our objectives. (We will disagree on objectives, but that’s a separate issue. )

Notice that the robot worker has no inherent worth. It exists to achieve objectives, and, if we could achieve those objectives without government, there would be no need for one. Humans, however, exist for their own sake. They deserve rights and freedoms. Systems do not.

So, when I say mean things about the government (i.e. that it is hypocritical and bullying), do not be upset. I am not insulting your relative, or you by extension.

I only want a better robot.

Flickr image by Laughing Squid


  1. Drew L

    Well done, sir. People have elevated Obama and this new administration to some untouchable level, trying to make villains out of anyone who will criticize him or ask he do what they consider to be a better job. I think it’s hilarious that it was the social norm to criticize Bush and call him everything from an idiot to a cocksucker, but if you say an unkind word about King Obama, you are labeled a villainous conservative demon (see: Rush, Hannity, etc).

  2. Chris

    I thought Obama was a bicycle?

  3. Biff

    Obama is working for us to give us hope for change in this the most progressive historical era ever in history! Why do you hate our hope?

  4. Drew L

    I have nothing against the idea of hope. I just don’t agree with most of Obama’s ideas and policies. Also, I don’t like the idea of elevating a politician as a folk hero.

  5. Chris

    Bush had a shield from criticism after 9/11. His bungling of just about everything eventually tore that down.

    I would agree that we should feel free to criticize Obama. Those who say we shouldn’t criticize don’t understand democracy. But let’s be fair, Rush, Hannity, Beck & co. deserve to be vilified. They aren’t criticizing from an honest or even minimally logical point of view. They’re all about ratings and extreme loyalty to the Republican party.

  6. Drew L

    I definitely agree on Bush having a shield after 9/11. But Chris, you must remember… “It’s a tough job. We’ll keep ya safe.”

  7. Chris

    Rallying around our leaders is a noble impulse. Unfortunately our leaders are rarely deserving of such loyalty, or like Bush, find ways to squander it.

  8. Jordan

    We should feel free to criticize anyone in government. Our government was founded on the principles that if it’s not working it’s the people’s right to tear it down and fix it. Unfortunately, we’ve allowed a lot of interests outside of the people in general to take hold and grab their ears (and put money in their wallets). All this talk of Big Gov’t vs Small Gov’t is stupid because at the end of the day it’s Our Government – we pay the taxes that pay their expenses and they are beholden to us. Most of what the government does is boring and doesn’t make for ‘sexy news’ which is why you only get the sound bytes of specific ‘sexy’ issues coupled with minutes of pundits yelling at each other to try and stir up drama followed by a news ticker telling you the latest thing Megan Fox said. The corporations that take care of your insurance and various other sundry things do not care about you and, unless you’re a stockholder, won’t listen to you. So why put your medical fate (or any other) in their hands? At least with a government you, nominally, have someone that is out to fulfill the larger social contract that makes up a nation and are responsible to Us, the taxpayers. If we don’t choose to exercise those rights then it’s our own problem.

  9. Jordan

    Drew – There’s something to be said for someone who is eloquent and charismatic. They become leaders all over the world, whether they’re Obama or Castro. The one thing he’s done is give a breath of fresh air to the rest of the world, which makes it easier for us to negotiate with them, as well as provide a role model for minorities in the country. I don’t see anything wrong with that. As to what gets accomplished during his presidency, we’ll have to wait and find out. I think if you’ve been following this blog you’ll notice that we’re not timid in pointing out glaring hypocrisies (such as Chris’s coverage of the torture issue).

  10. Obama has it easy, with Bush43 as his forebearer. The bar is low.

    A year from now, you’ll be posting about who should replace Obama. Charisma has a time limit.

  11. Drew L

    I’m just waiting until Handsome Chris can run for president.

    I haven’t kept up with the site as much as I wish I would have, but I think I’m safe in assuming that many of you would agree that one of the problems that is really keeping our government from both doing the best job it can and not splitting the country down the middle is the stupid two-party system. Everything is either/or instead of us being given a variety of options. The media tell us to pick a side of the fence and stick to it, so everyone is stuck with either liberal or conservative ideals, neither of which I can entirely agree with. I hope that after seeing the last few elections, someone will realize we need more than two choices for president.

  12. Chris

    I definitely agree. There are a new set of problems with multiple party systems, coalition building, etc., but I think there is undoubtedly more accountability to the people.