Tuesday, January 31, 2012

(Mis)Quote of the day: What Obama said Lincoln said and what Novick said Lincoln said

What President Obama said Abraham Lincoln said:
I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.
What Abraham Lincoln said:
The legitimate object of government is "to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves." There are many such things—some of them exist independently of the injustice in the world. Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men's property, are instances. But a far larger class of objects springs from the injustice of men. If one people will make war upon another, it is a necessity with that other to unite and coƶperate for defense. Hence the military department. If some men will kill, or beat, or constrain others, or despoil them of property, by force, fraud, or non-compliance with contracts, it is a common object with peaceful and just men to prevent it. Hence the criminal and civil departments.

• • • • •

The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.
I'd call that a difference that makes a difference. Of course, Lincoln's actual remarks probably wouldn't have gone down quite so well in a House chamber half-full of sullen drown-the-government-in-a-bathtub Republicans.

Hat-tip to Steve Novick, who spotted this immediately and who's been pointing it out to everyone who'll listen since Tuesday night.

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