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Works and Days

Some Signs of the Times

September 30th, 2009 - 6:09 am

How to distill the news? After watching it far too much the past nine months, I offer five random conclusions from what I think is going on in the age of Obama.

1. Disconnect. There is little semblance between how one lives and how one envisions others should live. We saw that with the cabinet nominees. Tom Daschle, cheating on the taxes on his free limousine service, was the obvious caricature of someone who likes the high life, has found a way through tribuneship to get it, and makes so much money that he easily has enough money to pay for the taxes he wants to raise on others—but would prefer, given his status, not to pay them at all. A Geithner, Dodd, or John Edwards typify a rather large influential class of such moralists who suffer on our behalf. The more influential the environmentalist, the more likely his house does not meet his own green requisites he wishes to impose on others, so that he might better think on our behalf. The more a Charles Rangel talks of affordable housing, the poor, and social justice, the more he suddenly finds hidden bank accounts, unreported income, and subsidized apartments in his name, so that he might better agitate on our behalf. Hypocrisy is a human, rather than a partisan sin (note the philandering evangelical or the capitalist who wants government money to rig the game), but the man on the barricades shouting about social equality is especially prone to it—since it pays so uniquely well both materially and psychologically.

2. Abroad. Foreign policy now starts with the assumption the world is not naturally chaotic, but tranquil—if not for the obtrusive presence of a largely ignorant and selfish United States. The past is selectively invoked—Native Americans, slavery, sexism, racism, imperialism—and always without consideration of the far greater sins of other comparable societies or the astounding achievements of American society that allow our present spokesmen their exalted status and influence. By reaching out to troublemakers, and airing our pathologies, we are supposed to calm the misunderstood and demonized, as we insidiously try to address their complaints. A Chavez or Ahmadinejad should be less hostile once they learn that we too are moving to socialized health care, income redistribution,  high taxes, blanket entitlements and becoming more part of the statist solution rather than of the cowboy capitalist problem. To understand  such a policy, shorn of its pretensions, as old-style appeasement is considered a smear. Or to think that a Syria, Venezuela, or Cuba hates individual freedom and exists for a professional cadre of elite autocrats is considered naïve and simplistic. The greatest defenders in America of a Castro or Chavez are precisely those whose lifestyles and income would be impossible under such regimes.

3. Top and bottom. Obama is the embodiment of the new Democratic Party that appeals to the very poor and the upscale, the one reliant on federal largess, the other making enough money not to care all that much about the taxes necessary to fund it. On almost every issue—environmentalism, social issues, larger government—there is a new alliance that simply downplays the ordeal of the larger middle class of all races and ethnicities, especially those who are self-employed and wedded to more traditional values. The hardware store owner, dentist, real estate salesperson, and farmer, are seen as the “boss” with capital to dispense to others, rather than the critical but harried entrepreneurs who get up each morning with no certainty of an income or benefits. The chief difference between the support for the new Obamism among those in the gated community (tastefully gated) and the barrio was the level of vehemence and near anger in which it was expressed—far greater the more upscale the neighborhood.

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