"Government is a relation of give and take." The "rulers"— FDR's word — take power from the people, who in turn are given "certain rights."
This, says Kesler, is "the First Law of Big Government: the more power we give the government, the more rights it will give us."
It also is the ultimate American radicalism, striking at the roots of the American regime, the doctrine of natural rights. Remember this when next — perhaps tonight — Obama discourses on the radicalism of Paul Ryan.
As Kesler says, the logic of progressivism is: "Since our rights are dependent on government, why shouldn't we be?"
This is the real meaning of Obama's most characteristic rhetorical trope, his incessant warning that Americans should be terrified of being "on your own."
Obama, the fourth transformative progressive, had a chief of staff who said "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
More than a century before that, a man who would become the first such progressive said a crisis is a terrible thing not to create. Crises, said Wilson, are periods of "unusual opportunity" for gaining "a controlling and guiding influence."
So, he said, leaders should maintain a crisis atmosphere "at all times."
Campaigning in 1964, Lyndon Johnson, the third consequential progressive, exclaimed through a bullhorn: "I just want to tell you this — we're in favor of a lot of things and we're against mighty few."
He learned this progressive vernacular from his patron, FDR, who envisioned "an unlimited civilization capable of infinite progress."
Poet Archibald MacLeish, FDR's choice for librarian of Congress, exemplified progressives' autointoxication:
America has "the abundant means" to create "whatever world we have the courage to desire," and the ability to "take this country down" and "build it again as we please," to "take our cities apart and put them together," to lead our "rivers where we please to lead them," etc.
In 2012, Americans want from government not such flights of fancy but sobriety; not ecstatic evocations of dreamlike tomorrows but a tolerably functioning today; not fantasies about a world without scarcities and therefore without choices among our desires and appetites but a mature understanding of the limits to government's proper scope and actual competence.
Tonight's speech is Obama's last chance to take a first step toward accommodation with a country increasingly concerned about his unmasked determination to "transform" what the Founders considered "fundamentals."
Will may be reached by email at is georgew...@washpost.com.