And the contrast between the two candidates couldn’t be stronger.
Right now, with growth stuck below 2%, we’re toast. With strong growth at 3% or better, there will be jobs. With long-term growth, Medicare, debt and the rest of the horribles that keep worrywarts awake at night are solvable. With strong growth, the U.S. will not have to cede world leadership prematurely to whichever Chinese functionary slugs his way to the top of their heap. With strong growth, your college graduate can move out of the house. With normal American growth, Europe may be irrelevant but it won’t die, and a U.S. president won’t look oddly small talking to the Vladimir Putins of the world.
Mr. Obama was exactly right in Cleveland when he said economic growth “is the defining issue of our time,” that his and his opponents’ views on growth are fundamentally different and “this election is your chance to break that stalemate.” This he gets. Only the most obtuse “pragmatists” persist in believing the solution lies in a mystical center somehow combining elements from this ideological oil and water.
Put differently, this is a substance election. It’s not about whether one “likes” Barack Obama or can’t warm to Mitt Romney. Voters have to pick two competing growth models, which means paying attention to what the candidates are saying about economic growth.
It’s true the Obama Cleveland speech had many familiar rhetorical distortions. One of the most revealing, though, is that “Governor Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory that . . . the best way to grow the economy is from the top down.”
Whatever that may mean, more interesting is the Obama counter-theory found here, what he calls “our North Star—an economy that’s built not from the top down, but from a growing middle class.”
There is no theory anywhere in non-Marxist economics that says growth’s primary engine is a social class. A middle class is the result of growth, not its cause. Barack Obama not only believes in class-based growth but has built his whole growth strategy around it.
One word appears nowhere in the 53-minute Obama speech on economic growth: “capital.” Human, financial, whatever. Capital dare not speak its name.
Why not? Perhaps Byron York’s latest article in the Washington Examiner provides a clue: “Obama saw corporate job as working for the enemy,” borrowing, presumably much to author David Maraniss’ chagrin from Barack Obama: The Story, York writes:
Obama spent very little time in business, but he did have a job at a company called Business International for about a year after he graduated from Columbia University in 1983. [Maraniss’] book contains new details about the future president’s brief stint in corporate America.
Obama was a low-level editor in Reference Services, working on reports describing economic conditions in various foreign countries. By all accounts, he disliked the work, not just because it was pedestrian and boring, but because it was in business.
“He calls it working for the enemy,” Obama’s mother, Ann, wrote after a phone conversation with her son, “because some of the reports are written for commercial firms that want to invest in [Third World] countries.”
Writing to a former girlfriend, Maraniss says, Obama also “expressed a distaste for the corporate world.” And in his engaging but unreliable memoir “Dreams from My Father,” Obama described his time at Business International this way: “Like a spy behind enemy lines, I arrived every day at my mid-Manhattan office. …” Obama wrote that he took the job only after his applications to several civil rights organizations were ignored.
Obama subsequently quit Business International, became a community organizer, attended law school, briefly practiced public interest law, taught a college class and got into politics. He had several jobs, but never again in business.
Yet as Obama told it in “Dreams from My Father,” he sometimes felt tempted to sell out during his time at Business International. After getting a promotion, Obama wrote, “I had my own office, my own secretary, money in the bank. Sometimes, coming out of an interview with Japanese financiers or German bond traders, I would catch my reflection in the elevator doors — see myself in a suit and tie, a briefcase in hand — and for a split second I would imagine myself as a captain of industry, barking out orders, closing the deal, before I remembered who it was that I had told myself I wanted to be and felt pangs of guilt for my lack of resolve.”
Maraniss discovered most of that wasn’t true; while Obama did have a tiny office, he didn’t have his own secretary, didn’t meet with financiers and bond traders, didn’t even wear a suit to work. But the one true thing in that passage is Obama’s antipathy for the business world.
As York goes on to write, that’s an attitude shared by Michelle Obama, and as we’ve seen over the past three years, many of Obama’s staffers. And it’s not like Obama has been quiet about his anti-business attitude, as we’ve noted here before:
“I’m not interested in the suburbs. The suburbs bore me,” Barack Obama told the AP in the early 1990s, as Joel Kotkin reminds us, in this passage highlighted by Instapundit:
Many of the administration’s most high-profile initiatives have tended to reflect the views of urban interests – roughly 20 percent of the population – rather than suburban ones.
When the president visits suburban backyards, it sometimes seems like a visit from a “president from another planet.” After all, as a young man, Obama told The Associated Press: “I’m not interested in the suburbs. The suburbs bore me.”
Add that to Obama’s previous utterances regarding other aspects of America that induced in him a sense of ennui as a young man. In 2008, Jim Geraghty spotted this telling passage in a book by David Mendell titled Obama: From Promise to Power:
“[Obama] always talked about the New Rochelle train, the trains that took commuters to and from New York City, and he didn’t want to be on one of those trains every day,” said Jerry Kellman, the community organizer who enticed Obama to Chicago from his Manhattan office job. “The image of a life, not a dynamic life, of going through the motions… that was scary to him.”
And there you have it — going to work and making an honest living is scary, not a dynamic life, working for the enemy, and boring. And those who disagree are those bitter clingers, typical white people, “ordinary” Americans.
How can a man jump-start a moribund economy when he doesn’t understand how it works (“the private sector is doing fine”) and so viscerally loathes the people who make it work?