Sometimes in unguarded moments the Obamas have said revealing things that later needed to be explained away—the President’s “bitter clingers” remark and Mrs. Obama’s being proud of her country “for the first time in my adult life” spring to mind.
Under the pressure of campaigning for reelection on his record, the president lately seems to be letting the mask slip more and more. Here is what he said to millionaires and billionaires at a New York fundraising event earlier this week:
“Our kids are going to be fine,” Obama told supporters at a campaign event last night. “And I always tell Malia and Sasha, look, you guys, I don’t worry about you . . . they’re on a path that is going to be successful, even if the country as a whole is not successful. But that’s not our vision of America. I don’t want an America where my kids are living behind walls and gates, and can’t feel a part of a country that is giving everybody a shot.”
This remark is fascinating in so many ways. First, it reveals what the president of the United States thinks of this country if his policies are not enacted. It is not a pretty picture. He sees an elite cowering behind gates, presumably afraid of the mobs outside who are driven to crime by high unemployment. (I’ll refrain from any comparisons with Occupy Wall Street.)
Throughout our history, most Americans have seen a different kind of country, one in which people can get ahead by starting at the bottom and working hard. This America requires thriving businesses, small and large, able to create jobs. A return to that pleasant vision would, of course, require reversing many of Mr. Obama’s policies and other big government initiatives that preceded him.
But the most interesting aspect is what the president seems to regard as necessary for getting ahead—his children will be all right, even if the U.S. fails, the children of the rich people at the fundraiser will also be okay, too.
So how do you succeed in President’s world? At the risk of egotism, I am going to quote from a piece I wrote about Mrs. Obama’s visit to Richmond during the 2008 presidential campaign. It was a gathering at which women with economic woes (some of which, I thought ungenerously, seemed to be of their own making) were invited to weep and wail and share Kleenex tissues about the lack of opportunity in George Bush’s darkening America:
Obama has been doing these economic roundtables all over the country in an effort to reach women whose votes will be crucial in November. The format is simple: A few speakers churn up the assembled, calling on them to work for the Democratic ticket at the grassroots level, and then Obama makes a few remarks and listens to the panelists.
At one such event, in February, Obama famously complained to women in an economically hard-hit hamlet in Ohio of the back-breaking costs of dance, piano, and sports lessons for the Obama girls, a faux pas recorded for posterity by National Review's Byron York. But the women loved her anyway, York noted. Today in Richmond Obama limits her catalogue of woes primarily to those oft-mentioned college loans the Obamas had to repay, admitting that "Barack and I had world-class educations" and that "otherwise we wouldn't be here." I wonder: Could the fragile Obama promise not have survived, say, a large state university?
I imagine President Obama believes that his children will be okay not only because their father is the most powerful man in the world but because they go to the right schools. I hope there were a few self-made millionaires in the room, people who rose through the ranks, shaking their heads in disbelief.
The snobbery inherent in the President’s base’s hope that they can win without the votes of the white working class is part and parcel of this worldview.
But here’s the catch, Mr. President: Your kids won’t be okay if America fails.
If America fails, we’ll all of us, including your children, live in a more dangerous world where economic opportunity is reduced, even for kids who have all the advantages.
That is how exceptional the American project is.