Whether Congress is, or is not, in recess, or whether wealthy bondholders should be paid back before working-class union pensioners, or whether some company should or should not be allowed to drill in the Gulf — these and others are moral and political, but not necessarily legal, issues. To the degree that he can, on any given challenge Obama assesses the politics of favoring his constituency of the “poor” and “middle class,” and then uses the necessary legal gymnastics post facto to offer the veneer of lawfulness.
If someone is breaking a federal “law” by entering Arizona illegally from Mexico, there must be a way to make the enforcer of that “law” the real suspect — given that a Sheriff Joe Arpaio is by allegiance of the privileged 1 percent and those whom he arrests most surely are not. Consumers are deemed to need federal help more than do lenders; accordingly, Congress “really” is now in recess. In other words, we are witnessing with this administration the ancient idea of the supposedly exalted ends justifying the somewhat ambiguous means — albeit dressed up in trendy Ivy League legalese and progressive moralizing.
Our postmodern president is not content with just picking and choosing which laws he will follow in advancing his social agenda. The war against the myth of disinterested Western jurisprudence extends also to free-market economics, as we see with the monotonous demonization of the so-called 1 percent and those who make over $200,000 per year. Sometime after January 2009, we learned that the “wealthy” did not gain their riches by a wide variety of what we once thought were legitimate means — luck, inheritance, work, health, intelligence, expertise, experience, education, or an overriding desire for money and status, coupled with an avoidance of classical sins like sloth, crime, and drunkenness.
Rather, we were taught that there was something else going on, something innately unfair in the manner in which we are arbitrarily compensated. In some sense, we are back to the old notion of a labor theory of value (e.g., an hour of working at Starbucks is inherently no less valuable to our society in terms of how much the worker should be paid than an hour crafting a deal at Goldman Sachs). The role, then, of government is not to ensure an equality of opportunity — which is impossible, given inherent and unending race, class, and gender exploitations — but to strive for an equality of result.
That utopian task demands that the best and the brightest in government redistribute capital, or rather use the state to make right what the private sector has distorted. (Of course, no one dares to suggest that Obama himself is cynically interested mostly in power and the delights thereof — and so as a postmodernist he simply constructs these egalitarian stage-sets as a means to enjoy the privileges of the technocratic class that he surrounds himself with.)
Tally up Obama’s early and recent unrehearsed and unguarded quips about wealth — “Spread the wealth”; his regrets that the Supreme Court has not addressed “redistributive change”; his concern that some have not realized that they already have made “enough” money; his warnings that now is not the time for “profit.” That serial message bookends the president’s slurs about millionaires and billionaires, corporate-jet owners, fat-cats, profit-driven doctors, and Vegas and Super Bowl junketeers.
All this unscripted editorializing reflects a recurring theme: Those with superior intelligence and higher moral authority must correct for warped private-sector compensation and human greed. And they can do that by deciding roughly how much each of us deserves to end up with.
In concrete terms, this pop socialism leads Obama to wish to enact more regulations, higher taxes on fewer taxpayers, and more on entitlements. Larger government can absorb health care and also many private-sector companies, as more federal and state workers likewise can even out the playing field. Near-zero interest rates, and renegotiating mortgage or student loans, along with higher deficits, more national debt, and expansionary monetary policy are likewise means to correct the inherent imbalances of the system and counter the greed of a few among us.
It does not matter that much whether, in the attempt to do all that, the better-off must be demonized with crude sloganeering. It does not matter that the poor must be caricatured as Steinbeck’s Joads, starving and poorly clothed, lacking iPhones, $200 sneakers, and big-screen TVs. It does not matter that 20th-century phenomena like National Socialism, Communism, and the European Union — and any other crackpot effort of a self-anointed elite to redistribute wealth and expand the state under the banner either of nationalism, or the global proletariat, or enlightened world citizens — have led only to poverty and chaos, at least for those outside the small exempt managerial class that implements, profits from, and often survives the ensuing disaster.
What makes Barack Obama a different president is not his racial heritage, his liberal outlook, or his mellifluous cadences, but rather the banal idea that the United States is fundamentally in need of this sort of radical change, and that only a select few like himself have the insight and skills necessary to both implement and preside over it. We simply have not seen that redistributive ideology in a president since Jimmy Carter, and then only in part. So far the biggest edge for Obama is his inability to push more of his agenda through first a friendly and now a not-so-friendly Congress — as if to say, “How could I be a redistributionist when they did not let me redistribute as planned?”
The fulfillment of that old vision of mandated equality of result is what the 2012 election is about — nothing more, nothing less.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of the just-released The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.