America's Two-Front War

America Has the Slows

Sometime about mid-2009 America began changing psychologically. True, to the naked eye, America retained the old hustle and bustle, but in an insidious fashion it began to think a bit differently. And that change in mentality explains in part why a year-and-a-half recession that officially ended in summer 2009 seems never to have ended at all.

In short, a sizable fraction of the upper-incomes is hesitant, defensive, unsure -- and to such a degree that for a while longer it is not hiring, buying, or investing in the old way. It believes not only that there is no certainty in the tax code, the cost of new entitlements, or our national finance, but that even if there were their own successes would be suspect and earn antipathy rather than praise.

In mirror-image fashion, those of the lower incomes are likewise hesitant to take risks -- unsure that the rewards of work in the private sector are all that much better than what government can offer through subsidies. The former group fears government will grow; the latter that it will not. The one suspects that Obama will confiscate more earnings; the other hopes that it will. Either way, there are fewer enterprising employers and fewer self-motivated galvanized workers.

The result of this two-front war is that America has been slowing down.

Or in crudely reductionist terms: the one asks "why hire another worker, when it is not worth it to pay out more in new health care costs and taxes down the road?" while the other answers "why get off unemployment or food stamps when it is more likely that they will be extended than curtailed?"

We now accept the notion of the peasant mentality -- that all wealth is finite and more for someone means less for another. In this new them/us atmosphere, Barack Obama took the natural tensions between the classes and exploited them as few other presidents dared. Suddenly, there really were two Americas: the suspect top who made over $200,000 and the more noble majority below who made less. Lost in that cheap division was any notion of the value to others from those who did well, or the reasons why some prospered, or the fragility of their brief good fortune.

If the upper 5% paid nearly 60% of the income taxes, then the problem was more fundamental: how had they been so well compensated in the first place to have the wherewithal to pay such taxes? It did no good to remind Obama that confiscating all the wealth of the 1% would not end the debt, or that steep new income tax on the 5% in and of itself will do little to balance the annual budget. His war was not about finding a remedy to his own profligate borrowing, but in retaining power through revving up anger at the better-off.

In the last three years, we have become so numb to Obama’s monotonous invective that it is now part of the national DNA: spread the wealth, fair share, fat cat, punish enemies, corporate jet owners, Super Bowl and Vegas junketeers, 1%, raise the bar, Grinch, millionaires and billionaires, at some point you've made enough money, no time for profit, and on and on. The subtext is always the same: the reason why, say, an orthodontist makes more than a Wal-Mart clerk is due to some sort of race, class, or gender discrimination, unfair advantage, or fatal flaw in the capitalist system, and only a technocratic elite in government retains the wisdom and morality to rectify that resulting inequality. One’s salary, then, is not quite his own, but more the collective’s -- given that the professional’s good fortune results from an insidious system of exploitation from the moment he was born to the last bill he sent out for services rendered.

Republicans have no answer for all this, and the most recent polls reflect that fact. The more we watch Ron Paul talk about American culpability for 9/11, the more Newt Gingrich talks about hauling in federal judges for inquisitions, the more we hear that Romney is an opportunistic flip-flopper, the more a Cain, Perry, or Bachmann melts down, the more Obama plays cool -- emerging from Hawaii or the golf links to sermonize on fairness while hoping that a Joe Biden, Eric Holder, or Steven Chu keeps his mouth shut for a little longer. In comparison to whom is to blame, it is as if near 9% unemployment, $16 billion in aggregate debt, pathetic GDP growth, a dead housing market, and a $1 trillion-plus steady annual deficit are no more than "whatever."

Note here, however, that the president’s social sermonizing is predictably selective. On the top end, we hear about the horrors of the anonymous millionaire and billionaire, never of the real Jon Corzine who bankrupted MF Global, gave over $70,000 to the Obama campaign, and cannot remember what he did with over $1 billion of someone else’s money. In the world of Obama, human greed is not endemic, but of a particular conservative and grasping sort; in contrast, liberal conniving is always one of carelessness or can be recompensed by liberal activism.

So what I most resent in Obama’s pop socialism is not just its proven impracticality and moral pretensions, but its utter hypocrisy.