Fact Check: Obama Did NOT Say 'Small-Minded' People Must 'Surrender Their Rights' To 'All-Powerful Sovereign'

Hoax Alert

  • by: Eric Ferkenhoff
Fact Check: Obama Did NOT Say 'Small-Minded' People Must 'Surrender Their Rights' To 'All-Powerful Sovereign' Edited

Did President Barack Obama say that "ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs," and "that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful soverign"? No, that's not true: a video of a 2014 speech was edited to make it appear that the former U.S. leader was saying those words, but he did not. Obama's address was actually warning against such power, not endorsing it.

The manipulated video appeared in a post (archived here) put up on Facebook in 2016. The text around the video read:

Pay Attention People! Its coming!

And the video, which is broken up by a shot of an audience, claims Obama said:

'...and the United States and for the international order that we have worked for generations to build...Ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.'"

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

The actual speech by Obama, which ran about 40 minutes, was before a gathering of European youth at Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, on March 26, 2014. The speech ran precisely counter to the Facebook post's suggestion that Obama was demeaning the American people and suggesting that people in the United States submit to a sovereign power. Quoting from the speech, the transcript of which is available to anyone through White House internet press archives, Obama said:

We meet here at a moment of testing for Europe and the United States, and for the international order that we have worked for generations to build.

Throughout human history, societies have grappled with fundamental questions of how to organize themselves, the proper relationship between the individual and the state, the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle -- through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution -- that a particular set of ideals began to emerge: The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding. And those ideas eventually inspired a band of colonialists across an ocean, and they wrote them into the founding documents that still guide America today, including the simple truth that all men -- and women -- are created equal.

But those ideals have also been tested -- here in Europe and around the world. Those ideals have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign. Often, this alternative vision roots itself in the notion that by virtue of race or faith or ethnicity, some are inherently superior to others, and that individual identity must be defined by "us" versus "them," or that national greatness must flow not by what a people stand for, but by what they are against.

The timing of the speech is imporant for contextual reasons. Obama was speaking against the February and March 2014 forced annexation of Crimea by Russia that had happened in the days before he spoke,

The video was previously debunked by The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and Politico.

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  Eric Ferkenhoff

Managing Editor Eric Ferkenhoff has been a reporter, editor and professor for 27 years, working chiefly out of the Midwest and now the South. Focusing on the criminal and juvenile justice systems, education and politics, Ferkenhoff has won several journalistic and academic awards and helped start a fact-checking project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he continues to teach advanced reporting. Ferkenhoff also writes and edits for the juvenile justice site JJIE.org.

 

Read more about or contact Eric Ferkenhoff

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