I recently came across two statements that have evoked radically different
public reactions. One is by Minnesota Republican congresswoman, Michele
Bachmann, who told Chris Matthews on his television program that Obama
holds “anti-American views,” like certain other members
of Congress. The far more significant remark, however, was by Melissa
Harris-Lacewell, a professor of politics and African-American studies
at Princeton University, expressing the hope that the election of Barack
Obama would not result in the belief that our war against racism is
over. This lady wished to remind us that “Obama winning the presidency
does not translate into the end of racial stereotyping or the end of
Congresswoman Bachmann’s remark produced negative responses
even in her solidly Republican district, where an obscure Democratic
challenger raised piles of money in an attempt defeat her in the November
4 election. (She prevailed, but by only two percentage points.) That
is because most Americans do not think that Obama and the Democratic
Left are “anti-American.” Quite to the contrary! Obama
and the Princeton professor, who is quoted in the Christian
Science Monitor, stand very much within the current American mainstream, which
has been taking form since the 1960s. It is rather Bachmann who may
be the increasingly isolated American.
Equally questionable is a statement by Jonah Goldberg that Obama’s
vision of “America’s promise” is a “defense
of collectivism.” Apparently, “millions of Americans don’t
share this vision. They don’t see the economy as a pie, whereby
your slice can only get bigger if someone else’s gets smaller.
They don’t begrudge the wealthy their wealth.” If this
is the case, why did Obama sweep to an easy victory, obviously getting
votes even from Fox viewers?
Certain variables have caused the United States
to swerve to the social left, such as the media, public education,
the entertainment industry, a leftward-drifting Christianity, and
the expansion of the democratic welfare state. These variables have caused positions that were once
considered strange, such as support for gay marriage and the application
of the Fourteenth Amendment to illegals, to become commonplace. At
the end of the campaign, McCain and the “conservative” Sarah
Palin took positions to the left of where liberal Democrats once stood,
issues such as feminist legislation, immigration, and many economic
What has allowed this country, together with Canada, Western Europe,
and other areas heavily influenced by us, to move leftward since the
1960s is the enormous rise in disposable income and consumer goods.
Although the rate of economic growth in welfare state democracies is
typically just above one percent, the possibilities for consumer gratification
have grown exponentially since the 1950s. Americans are used to living
well, and they wish to have the government finance their pleasures
as well as their needs.
Many people complain about medical costs but seem blind to the fact
that they are living much longer than people were before, and they
are taking advantage of expensive medical technology. The comparisons
between what is now happening because of the sagging stock market and
the sufferings caused by the Crash of 1929 are downright silly. Americans
are not going without food and shelter, as they were in the millions
after the Great Depression, because their investments and retirement
funds have taken a dip. Our citizens may have to cut back on their
vacations and send their kids to less expensive colleges, but the fact
that so many dare to compare themselves to the homeless and starving
who were beset by a far worst disaster in the past is indicative of
the high levels of self-pity and historical ignorance that prevail.
A cushion of prosperity has made it possible for Americans to become
fashionably radical as well as pampered. We now exhibit as a kind of
reflex “sensitivity” to causes that earlier generations,
faced by more basic material problems and embedded in more traditional
societies, would have scorned. This material improvement has made people
comfortable enough to turn their backs on inherited communal attitudes
and family roles, and they have voted for the most leftist government
in American political history. The election results elevate the supreme
embodiment of this change, in a victory against the most liberal GOP
presidential candidate ever nominated by his party. But these trends
will not save the new president if he turns out to be an economic bungler.
Most Americans are not keen on transferring their earnings to designated
victims’ groups or Washington bureaucrats.
People voted for the far Left out of peeve as much as ideological
conviction, because their material assets seems currently endangered
or excessively limited. These voters want the state to shower them
with entitlements and tax rebates. But they did not vote in most cases
to fund the clients of ACORN or to be denied jobs for themselves and
college slots for their kids in order that others receive government
privileges. The Democrats and their embattled partisans should not
treat their victory as an occasion for massive economic redistribution
at the expense of those who switched sides to support them. If the
Democrat partisans overreach, they will surely lose this fickle following.
The Ornery Observer archives
The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2008
by by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All
rights reserved. A version of this column appeared in the Lancaster
(Pennsylvania) Newspapers in October 2008. All rights reserved.
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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