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Commentary: Obama's confusing blend of left-right economics

  • Story Highlights
  • Navarette agrees: Barack Obama's speech at Democratic Convention was masterful
  • But Navarette thinks you can't advocate both government help and self-reliance
  • Columnist believes Obama's economic theory sounds contradictory
  • Navarette: Response to Katrina in New Orleans shows government is no help
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. says he's part of a generation that learned you wait a long time for government to save you.

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- You knew Barack Obama would deliver a magnificent speech in accepting the Democratic nomination for president. And he did.

CNN contributor David Gergen -- my graduate school professor and an adviser to four presidents -- called the speech a masterpiece. And it was.

Most of the speech dealt with economic issues. The last thing Obama wanted to do was channel Lyndon Johnson or some other Great Society, tax-and-spend Democrat.

Nor did he want to come across like a laissez-faire, no-tax-but-spend-anyway George W. Bush Republican.

That's a tough needle to thread, and Obama settled on a hybrid of left-right economic theory that sounded like a bundle of contradictions.

Obama talked about "America's promise," the belief that "through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well."

He explained it as "the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise and fall as one nation" and described it as blending "individual responsibility and mutual responsibility." Simply put: You have to do what you can for yourself, but that you also have to do for others.

There is the rub: If everyone were to adhere to the first part, there will be no need for the second. Besides, even if we buy the idea that, as Obama said, "I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper," there is still the question of whether government should do the keeping.

The same question came to mind during Joe Biden's speech Wednesday. The Democratic vice presidential nominee also talked about "America's promise," but he defined it differently. For Biden, it's about what his working-class parents told him "about how anyone can make it if they try."

Now we're getting somewhere.

Then Biden got tangled in his own contradiction. He talked about his dad who, when he fell on hard times, would tell his son: "Champ, when you get knocked down, get up."

Then he lamented that he had "never seen a time when Washington has watched so many people get knocked down without doing anything to help them get back up."

Wait a minute. Who said anything about government helping folks get back up when they get knocked down? Is that what Papa Biden was talking about? It sounded like he was saying people should get themselves back on their feet.

I'm a big fan of getting back up, personal responsibility, educating yourself, making good choices, and getting over the idea that the world owes you a living.

I'm also keen on people not playing the victim, not feeling a sense of entitlement, and not fearing competition. And when you're struggling in a tough economy, you don't give up or lay blame or ask for a government bailout, you work harder.

Those are my principles -- but they carry a dose of pragmatism. I can't remember the last time I saw government do something right. As a 41-year-old, I'm part of a generation that learned not to wait for government to save you because you could be waiting a long, long time.

Case in point: On this third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, there are people in New Orleans who are still waiting for the federal government to rebuild that city. Good luck with that, folks.

The waters have long since receded and residents are no longer standing on rooftops holding signs that read: "Help save us!" But they might as well be.

The same goes for the Democrats who convened in Denver. This is a party that maintains power by trying to convince people that our country is a dark place, devoid of opportunities, and that the answer is to elect more of them.

Now they're seeking a change in the White House, a change in policy, and a change in national priorities --even if they aren't ready to change their tune.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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