A President’s Class War

Where on the income scale does Mr. Obama divide the country between us and them?

Barack Obama may be the most embittered American president any of us has experienced. Read the text of that Labor Day speech he gave in Milwaukee.

“Anyone who thinks we can move this economy forward with a few doing well at the top, hoping it’ll trickle down to working folks running faster and faster just to keep up—they just haven’t studied our history.”

One may argue that Mr. Obama’s community-organizer attacks on the wealthy in front of a union crowd (delivered with the tone and syntax of bar-stool resentment) are meant to keep the party’s perpetually angry left-wing base agitated enough to vote in November. But since the earliest days of his presidency, starting with his first economic message, Mr. Obama has harped on the idea that “well-off and well-connected” economic factions in the U.S. have done something explicit to shaft the middle class. Yesterday’s Cleveland speech was more of the same.

One month it’s insurance companies, the next it’s the bankers, or merely “the special interests.” One wonders where exactly along the American income scale Mr. Obama divides the country between us and them? My guess is the castle walls begin with anyone living in the lower end of what qualifies as an upper-middle class suburb.

From Milwaukee: “To steal a line from our old friend, Ted Kennedy, what is it about working men and women that they [Republicans] find so offensive?” Barack Obama’s approval numbers are plummeting because a lot of people who rose from modest backgrounds, Republican and Democrat, find that remark offensive and gratuitous. Surely some of the people around Mr. Obama in the White House know how insulting this stuff is, but either they can’t do anything about the president’s compulsions or have signed on.

What’s odd (as always) in an Obama speech is that even as he is launching salvos at an overclass scheming to “cut working class folks like you loose to fend for yourselves,” his remarks touch some truths. He identifies exactly what his audience needs to climb out of their rut: “An education that’ll give our kids a better life than we had. These are simple ideas. American ideas.”

No idea in the literature of economics or social science the past 15 years has received more elevation than the relationship in a modern economy between educational attainment and income. Whose fault is it that public schools in blue-collar districts ill-prepare so many working-class “graduates” to get and hold modern jobs? Did Wall Street ruin the schools, too?

For years business leaders have begged the public sector to upgrade the skill sets coming out of the schools. Before the recession, I recall a piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about a Great Lakes tugboat maker who said he couldn’t find people with the smarts to do the high-level welding his boats demanded. Our economy has been free-riding on corporate training programs for years and may discover post-recession that the real unemployment rate sticks at just below 9%, as in Europe.

In his Milwaukee speech, Mr. Obama conflates “the middle class” with “the working class.” They’re not the same anymore. In an important piece in the Journal last Friday, “The Generation That Can’t Move On Up,” Andrew Cherlin and Brad Wilcox described how many working-class men and women are disconnecting from the basic values and moorings of middle-class life: “They’re becoming socially disengaged, floating away from the college-educated middle-class.” They marry less, go to church less, and lose interest in being part of civic life.

“These working-class couples still value marriage highly,” note Messrs. Cherlin and Wilcox, “but they don’t think they have what it takes to make a marriage work.” So they downshift to co-habitation, changing partners and dragging their confused children with them.

Messrs. Cherlin and Wilcox end with a good question: “Will their social disengagement leave them vulnerable to political appeals based on anger and fear?”

Barack Obama’s Labor Day speech in Milwaukee pumped out more angry, class-based political demagoguery than the nation needs now and more than this president’s independent supporters expected of him.

Aspects of Mr. Obama’s early agenda for education as the answer to the income gap were hopeful, but that is being backed out by his deeper class-justice obsessions. So much of what the president has done so far looks as if he believes the primary solution to the inexorable global economic pressures on the U.S. is to simply engineer a massive wealth transfer downward.

Even if you believed in this as justice, how can it possibly be sustained for the next 25 years absent a revolutionary overhaul of the education system? He’s essentially proposing a permanent blue-collar welfare plantation.

To be clear: The anxieties Mr. Obama is describing are real. But not everyone can spend 40 years pouring concrete or driving a city bus. Eventually, instead of a president ranting constantly about “greed and recklessness,” we’re going to need a national leader willing to spend his time in office getting everyone, from top to bottom, believing they are on the same national team.

Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal


Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703453804575479831591176068.html