Debate 2012: Obama’s Questionable Embrace of Free Enterprise

David Azerrad /

In his closing argument last night, President Obama presented himself as a champion of free enterprise. “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known,” he said in response to a question about the biggest misperception that people have of him. “I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded.”

Then, like clockwork, came the ominous “but”: “But I also believe that everybody should have a fair shot and everybody should do their fair share and everybody should play by the same rules.”

Here’s the rub: Free enterprise goes hand in hand with the rule of law—what the President refers to as everyone playing “by the same rules.” A true champion of free enterprise does not need to specify that he also believes in the rule of law, since it’s part and parcel of free-market economics. To specify that the free enterprise system needs to be supplemented by the rule of law suggests instead that one has embraced the left’s straw-man depiction of capitalism as a ruthless system that allows the rich to rig the game to fleece the poor.

Ditto with everyone getting a fair shot. If all the President meant by “fair shot” was “equality of opportunity,” then why add it to the list, since it too is an integral component of the free enterprise system? Given the President’s progressive principles and policies, it’s more likely that by “fair shot” he has in mind something along the lines of sameness of opportunity—i.e., no one should have more opportunities than anyone else (“a thoroughly nasty and totalitarian concept,” as writer Theodore Dalrymple remarks).

As for the “fair share” remark, it’s nothing but a thinly veiled jab at the rich (defined at various points throughout the debate by President Obama as “folks at the top,” “the top 1 percent,” or “the top 2 percent”). A true champion of free markets would not attack the rich by implying that they are somehow taking advantage of the rest of us (to say nothing of the fact that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans already pay nearly 40 percent of all federal income taxes).

President Obama can either embrace the free enterprise system or he can play the class-warfare card. But—and in this case, there must be a “but”—he can’t do both at the same time.