April 16, 2008

Obama’s Got It Backwards

Obama locates the roots of working class Americans’ atavistic social conservatism in their underlying economic insecurity.  If only they had good jobs and rising economic prospects, they would hop on board with the Democrats’ socialist agenda.  The politics of “hope,” it turns out, consist of promises of more money, plasma TVs, tax cuts, and cradle-to-grave healthcare.  His own life experience should have convinced him that this is not enough, and that money is not the chief problem.  His work as a “community organizer” and the trillions spent by government welfare programs have only increased the demands of resentful and demanding urban blacks.  Even though the “poor” today have air conditioning, color TV, cable, running water, free food, and all the rest, they are a tinderbox of instability, violence, and unhappiness.  While the government should concern itself with an industrial policy that allows hard working people to earn a living and support a family, these things won’t prevent people from caring about religion or immigration.

Another person in Barack Obama’s life should have convinced him that human beings have other concerns than money:  his wife.  Michelle Obama has a trait that I often see in apolitical people:  a vague sense that something is wrong with our way of life and our busy world.  She talks about how times were better in her youth, when people “looked out for each other.”  Taking kids to $10,000 dance lessons while balancing a sinecure gig at the University of Chicago hospitals undoubtedly creates a time management crunch.  She’s always running around, even though most women—including her—are better suited to the slower rhythms of domestic life.  I?ve seen this disappointment most in people from blue collar backgrounds that somehow make their way into money.  They pursued the “brass ring” dutifully, but they are surprised to learn that money and success doesn?t solve all of their problems.  Michelle Obama makes a lot of money, but she running here, there, everywhere, keeping up with the Jonses, not knowing her neighbors, still feeling insecure, and constantly having to work.

She often talks of a profound malaise in American life, viz., “I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment.”  But one can?t ignore the dissonance between means and ends: her complaints are all spiritual in nature, but the diagnoses and solutions her husband embraces are financial and practical, such as government health care, free trade protectionism, and a soak-the-rich tax policy.

When she?s not mouthing Marxist platitudes about race, Michelle Obama?s instincts are typically feminine in that they are concerned with meaning, balance, and security, and, in this sense, they are vaguely conservative.  This is undoubtedly the product of her stable, blue collar upbringing.  But the solutions she and her husband promises to solve our crisis of meaning are not the right tools for the job, and her husband?s soaring rhetoric conceals a very ordinary agenda.

Barack Obama should have some clue to this himself; he’s had a very comfortable life, but he is obsessed with race and identity, not least because he was abandoned by his good-for-nothing African father. His constituents in South Chicago “benefited” from being warehoused in state-of-the-art housing projects, only to see all civility and all structure disappear.  Blacks that once kept their more antisocial cousins and sons in check through coherent neighborhoods completely descended into barbarism in the Robert Taylor homes—this, all in the name of giving them all state of the art appliances and “decent” housing.  Obama’s Marxism has blinded him to his own experience with poor blacks, as well as his experiences with his “poor little rich girl” of a wife.

The real roots of Michelle Obama’s pain are deeper, stemming from the unbalanced and typically American obsession with money, status, getting ahead, ?career,? and the like. Nothing in capitalism requires people to get on that track, but advertising and pop culture surely make it harder to reject.  Her lack of sensitivity to the serious financial problems of her blue-collar audiences (and her blindness to the well hidden struggles of her parents) demonstrate what I believe is another important factor in her and other Americans? unhappiness:  a lack of gratitude and perspective.  It’s as real for a $300,000 a year affirmative case like her, as it is for the “poor.” Today’s poor are many times better off than their grandparents, but, particularly when their lot is improved by the kind of government handouts Barack Obama wants more of, are less decent and less happy.

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