As Barack Obama clinches victory, his task as president is clear: fight for America's middle-class

If Warren Buffett is moved to complain that he pays less tax proportionately than his cleaner, something must be rotten in the modern United States

Share

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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all