|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
My boyhood friend Jack became a doctor — and a conservative. He had gone to public schools, attended college with the help of a government scholarship, went to medical school on the Army’s dime, and learned his specialty in military hospitals. He insisted that the government had done nothing for him. In that way, he is both the soul and the wit of the Republican Party.
It was in rebuttal to the Jacks of this world that Barack Obama earlier this month updated John Donne’s “No man is an island” by knocking the idea that individual success is always the product of individual qualities, such as industriousness: “Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.”
This observation, so obvious you’d think it didn’t have to be stated, was then followed by what became a gotcha sound bite: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
Of course, the president has nothing but truth and history on his side. Every schoolchild in my neck of the woods learned that the Erie Canal, which made New York truly the Empire State, was government-funded — $7 million appropriated at the insistence of Gov. DeWitt Clinton. The railroads did not come from nowhere and neither did the ports or the highway system. Government played a role. Government has always played a role. If it just got out of the way, the mindless mantra of the tea party’s heavy thinkers, we would all be in deep trouble.
Romney’s embrace of tea-party thinking is just ideological womanizing. (He won’t call in the morning.) While in Israel, he mentioned that one of the books that influenced his thinking on foreign affairs is “Start-Up Nation” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. (Senor is one of Romney’s important foreign policy advisers.) It is a good book, mentioned favorably by me in a recent column, and it accounts for why little Israel has become such a high-tech giant. As always, there is no single answer. Large-scale immigration (mostly from Russia) contributed, and certainly the conversion from an essentially socialist economy to a capitalist one has made a huge difference.
But so has the government — in particular, the army with its own culture of innovation and intellectually elite units devoted to high-tech training and warfare. Graduates of these programs, having satisfied their military obligation, populate Israel’s high-tech sector — and, to Israel’s chagrin, America’s as well. Israel is the start-up nation because the government helped start it up.