Now that the election is over, we are starting to see the contours of what lies ahead for the next four years. Here are some likely consequences from the Obama victory.
1. Barack Obama is not very interested in tax reform, deficit reduction, or curbing annual spending. He believes in big government, and the bigger the better. His tenure is not so much a repudiation of Reaganism as it is of Clintonism, and the whole notion of keeping the annual growth of federal spending at or below 2 percent, balancing the budget, and declaring the era of big government over. Going off the cliff would give Obama the extra revenues from across-the-board tax hikes on the 53 percent that can fund further expansions for the 47 percent in federalized health care, food stamps, unemployment, and disability insurance and in block grants to bankrupt cities, states, and pension funds. Gorging the beast always demands more revenue; and more revenue will always come from those who must “pay their fair share.” That is also a good thing in itself given the innately unfair compensation of the marketplace, which must be rectified by an intelligent, always-growing government, run by humane technocrats rather than grasping Wall Street speculators. In other words, why should we expect serious discussions on the deficit? When so many have so much less than so few, we have hardly begun the necessary “redistributive change.” That is facilitated, not retarded, by large deficits and the need for much higher taxes on the fat cats who did not build their own wealth.
2. One could make the argument that Barack Obama was the first president since Jimmy Carter to put daylight between Israel and the United States — both rhetorically and materially on issues such as settlements, the Netanyahu government, and disputes with the Palestinians. Yet Obama still received over 60 percent of the Jewish-American vote. That anomaly might suggest a number of things. For all practical purposes, the supposed Israeli lobby is now analogous to the fading Greek lobby — with similarly diminishing clout in foreign policy.
If Obama can still count on a strong majority of the self-identified Jewish vote, then he has established that U.S. policy toward Israel is largely freed from domestic political concerns. Diehard support for Israel now no longer rests with the American Jewish community, though it may come from evangelical Christians and from Americans in general who prefer to support consensual governments in their wars against authoritarians. Obama correctly saw that, more than six decades after the creation of Israel, and a century after the great Jewish immigrations from Eastern Europe, many of today’s American Jews are assimilated and intermarried, not all that familiar with Israeli issues, or simply no more aware of being Jewish than I am of being Swedish. That may be a good thing for the melting pot of America, but it is most certainly a different thing as far as U.S. support for Israel is concerned — as we return to a pre-1967 relationship with a Jewish state that is increasingly on its own.
3. The traditional conservative antidote to Obamaism has fallen short. That is, the arguments of principled conservatives about the perils of big government, redistributionist economics, and diminutions in personal freedom seem for a majority of Americans to be outweighed by the attraction of government subsidies and entitlements. If there is going to be a check on Barack Obama’s redistributionist agenda, it will probably have to come from upper-middle-class independent voters and blue-state residents. Such Obama supporters may soon notice that the new federal and state tax rates, the envisioned end to traditional deductions such as those for blue-state high taxes and for mortgage interest, and means testing for most government services are aimed precisely at themselves. When the Palo Alto resident grasps that his total income- and payroll-tax burden will be well over 50 percent, his tax deduction for the mortgage interest on his million-dollar-plus, 1,000-square-foot home will be eliminated, and his $250,000 salary still gets him counted as “rich” even after huge taxes and mortgage costs, we may see change — perhaps not in terms of the number of large swings in actual votes, but in the nature of campaign donations, political commentary, and campaign organization. Blue-state elites do not yet believe the voracious Obama tax monster is coming for them, but it is — as they will see.
4. Barack Obama has successfully conducted a number of wars of hyphenated-Americans against the regressive establishment. When the Obama campaign asked supporters to check off which “constituency groups” they identified with but did not include “whites” or “men” among the options, or when the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who gave the 2009 inaugural benediction, can declare without pushback that white people are going to Hell, or when one totals up the Obama administration’s vocabulary of racial polarization (e.g., “nation of cowards,” “my people,” “punish our enemies,” “put y’all back in chains”) and collates the invective with that of the Black Caucus and the likes of MSNBC, then we are headed for a backlash analogous to that of the 1970s among the white working class. In the new racialist landscape, is it any surprise that Jamie Foxx can joke about killing white people, or that Chris Rock can call the Fourth of July “white people’s independence day,” or that Samuel L. Jackson can brag of voting along strictly racial lines, or that Morgan Freeman can equate opposition to Obama with racism, even as he reminds us that Obama is only half black?
Many of us had hoped that the phenomenal rate of intermarriage and assimilation had made the old racial rubrics anachronistic, if not irrelevant, but Obama has managed in brilliant fashion to resurrect them in terms of minority groups’ having grievances against the assumed white majority that does all sorts of awful things, from arresting children on their way to purchase ice cream to stereotyping people solely on the basis of race.
It was almost surreal to watch the pre–November 6 media and political commentariat daily allege racism and attempts to prevent minorities from voting, only to witness their post–November 6 jubilation that Obama’s reelection had given America a reprieve and proven the power of the Other to express itself at the ballot box. When asking a would-be voter to show his a driver’s license is declared tantamount to voter intimidation, while 59 Philadelphia precincts collectively reporting a margin of 19,605 to 0 against Romney is merely proof of the president’s popularity in minority communities, then we have a growing divide that will not be assuaged by cheap “no more red state/blue state” rhetoric from those who help to foster it.
5. In the new climate of “fat cats,” “corporate jet owners,” “pay your fair share,” “you didn’t build that,” and “1 percent,” the more Americans have, the more they are envious of those who have more. One might have thought that the technological revolution, in combination with the welfare state, had redefined poverty altogether in ways that the fossilized entitlement bureaucracy could hardly grasp. Certainly, a Kia, an iPhone, and a big-screen TV do not disqualify one from the menu of American entitlements. That today’s earner or recipient of $35,000 in wages or entitlements has better appurtenances — in terms of computer power, phone, and car — than the $250,000 earner of 30 years ago means little. The point is not that the modern iPhone gives the poor man access to more knowledge than the entire RAND Corporation had 50 years ago, but that the contemporary RAND Corporation has more access than what an iPhone can provide, leaving its owner in relative terms still poor. That today’s Kia is better in many ways than yesterday’s Mercedes matters little — it is still not today’s Lexus. One of the great lessons in the age of Obama is that wealth and poverty will always remain relative. Happiness is now defined not as having the basics I need, but as ensuring that someone else does not have more. Obama has successfully appealed to the oldest and basest of human emotions — envy and jealousy, masked with the notion of enforced fairness — and for now they trump even the human desire to be free.