In a high-profile address this week to the Associated Press luncheon, President Obama began his re-election campaign in earnest.

For obvious reasons, he did not rest his case on the positive achievements of his own administration. Would you boast of having purchased America’s feeblest economic recovery despite presiding over record levels of federal borrowing?

Instead, President Obama drew an extended contrast between his priorities and those of his Republican opponents, whom he sought to demonize as seeking to impose “a radical vision” on the country. Naturally, any electioneering speech will shade the truth, cherry-pick facts, and impute the worst possible motives to one’s electoral competitors. This speech was no exception.

The caricatured contrast Obama sought to paint, however, reveals a great deal about the president’s own “radical vision” for the country.

According to the president, the great question facing the country in the wake of the great recession is: “What, if anything,” we can do “to restore a sense of security for people who are willing to work hard and act responsibly in this country?” Economic security is, according to the president, “the defining issue of our time.”

Consider the alternative “defining issues” the president rejects: to him, the challenge facing our country today is not increasing economic growth or expanding opportunity, nor it preserving individual freedom and empowering individuals to risk and to achieve; neither is it even restoring a sense of possiblity and reviving America’s traditional optimisim that the future will be better than the past.

It is economic security.

Though the president professed to believe that “the true engine of job creation is the private sector,” the evidence he offered as evidence belied the claim. He boasted of having supported targeted tax cuts for certain small businesses — but that is only another way of saying that he has used governmental power to interfere with the private sector, in order to favor some businesses over others, and that is the opposite of allowing free persons and free markets and the private sector to compete on a level playing field.

What the president wants is for the government to provide economic security for people who are “willing to work hard.” Whether people actually work hard or whether they actually produce anything of economic value is irrelevant to the economic security to which he claims we are all entitled.

The president seems to envision a world in which we are all public sector employees or tenured professors, virtually impossible to fire and therefore insulated from any economic pressure to become more productive.

The problem with security as a goal is you can never have enough of it.

To provide the economic security he envisions, the president demands requires constantly increasing the scope and power of government. In his telling of American history, the major landmarks are new government programs and increasing federal outlays.

On average, since World War II, the federal government has spent at a relatively constant rate of 18.5 percent of our national income. This year, under President Obama, the feds will spend 22 percent, much of it borrowed.

Republicans argue that, in light of America’s impressive economic growth during the post-war period, the 18.5 percent share represents a sustainable outlay. They expect that, if government is kept within this reasonable bound, the economy will grow more rapidly, benefiting all.

Is it “radical” to preserve a status quo that has served the country well for more than half a century? Hardly.

The president singles out for disapproval the Republicans’ plan to reform Medicare for people now under 55, which would end the ruinously expensive, unlimited entitlement by which we now provide health care for seniors. The plan would instead give all senior citizens an amount of money, allowing them to purchase health care plans in a regulated market. Unlike the president’s plan, which empowers government, the Republican plan empowers individuals.

What love was in the poetry of John Donne, so government is to President Obama: Government “is a growing, or a full constant light/ And his first minute, after noon is night.”

The president sees in the Republicans’ budget proposals the “night” of Social Darwinism, because to him government must keep growing without limit. A rapidly expanding government, however, is not the historical norm; traditionally it has been a temporary response to national emergency.

In the desire to make emergency permanent in the vain pursuit of a “security” that can never be fully attained, it is President Obama who reveals himself as the true radical.

Joseph R. Reisert is associate professor of American constitutional law and chairman of the department of government at Colby College in Waterville.

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