British businessmen often look across the pond with a glint of envy in their eyes. America, you see, is in love with the cult of the entrepreneur, and with moneymaking generally.
The Republican heartland has been referred to as Jesusland, but they worship Mammon with the same fervour as they worship the Christian prophet in the Bible belt. When people venture to protest about the excesses of the wealthy, of the “1 per cent” over there, Republicans accuse them of indulging in “the politics of envy” while promising more tax cuts for the wealthiest in American society so they can “create jobs” and protect “America’s special place in the world”.
I sometimes wonder whether a bit more of the politics of envy is exactly what America needs. After all, the figures (they are from the US census bureau) show that while the American economy grew every year up until 2008, median incomes flatlined.
Middle America was no better off on the eve of the financial crisis than it was at the dawn of the new century. As for job creation? There wasn’t any. The Bush era tax cuts, widely criticised for favouring the rich, did nothing to stimulate any economic activity that would see the extra money trickling down. The recipients of the tax cut sat on their extra loot.
It says it all that a guru of capitalism like Warren Buffett was moved to complain that his cleaner paid more tax as a proportion of her income than he did.
Can the second term President Obama, re-elected this morning, do anything to change this? His problem this time around, the reason the race with Mitt Romney has been so close, is that while America is growing again after the grim years of the financial crisis, ordinary Americans still aren’t feeling it.
The American middle is still scared for its jobs. Its people want to protect what income they do have. At such a time the siren call of the Tea Party tempts them even if the economic medicine that its leaders peddle is little better than snake oil when it comes to improving their lot, much less the lot of the legions of American poor.
Whoever occupies the Oval Office come tomorrow will be faced with the dilemma of how to deal with an enormous deficit against an uncertain economic backdrop and in the teeth of a bitterly partisan congress which holds doing a deal with the other side akin to doing a deal with the devil.
He may have to make cuts just to balance the books. It would be easier if he could also raise taxes, but the people of the squeezed middle would exact a brutal revenge on the party that tried it on them.
But what about squeezing those who can afford to pay? Anathema to Republicans, who would fight any attempt like cats in a sack. But perhaps it is time for a second term President Obama to throw caution to the wind and pick such a fight. To indulge absolutely in the politics of envy and use the Census Bureau’s figures to his advantage, to point out forcefully to the middle that they’ve not shared in what economic growth there has been and say he wants to redress the balance. Again and again.
Perhaps he should scrap all that soaring rhetoric and get down and dirty, using his opponent’s tactics against them when it gets nasty (and it will). How about it: Obama as streetfighter in office, not just on the campaign trail. He’s won elections and he comes from Chicago. He really ought to know a bit about fighting dirty.