Barack Obama’s re-election revived the shock (conservatives) and awe (liberals) that our country actually completed the century-long transition from owning black people as slaves, to putting one in the oval office. His supporters like to believe that a (mostly) fatherless, urban minority who achieves such a high level of up-from-the-bootstraps success knows the value of economic policies that favor the 97% of us not on the top financial tier. Despite what Romney said, 47% of us don’t think “the government should take care” of us, but it sure could spend a lot more money on things like public schools and infrastructure than an eleven-billion-dollar military airplane.
But wait―Obama was raised by a PhD anthropologist mother in the upper middle-class. He attended private schools and pays a lower percent in taxes on his two-million-dollar-a-year income than the majority of us working-class schmoes. Although President Obama is worth about $200 million less than contender Mitt Romney, both are Harvard-educated millionaires. Obama achieved his hefty income as a high-fee lawyer; Romney enjoyed his rich daddy’s lessons in how to become an acquisition-obsessed business man.
What many of us forget to notice is the social equality of an African-Hawaiian minority president is overshadowed by the fact that class inequity between rich and poor is worse in our country than it’s been in a century. While Obama’s not in the 1%, he probably wouldn’t have been elected if he hadn’t been a millionaire. The blather and promises both sides spewed to get the vote is like a parody of the comedy film, Swing Vote, in which Kevin Costner plays a likable, out-of-work, single dad who, due to his daughter’s antics, becomes a crucial election tie-breaker. To win his vote, a pair of Romney-and-Obama-style opponents blather, spew, and flip-flop while the media aggrandize his random remarks as brilliant. After this neck-and-neck contest, the film’s plot seems more documentary than Hollywood fantasy.
The reason politicians try hard to appeal to the “working-class” or “blue-collar”―the term for those of us who keep the country running on an hourly wage―is because we represent at least 90 million potential votes. To determine whether or not being a millionaire is required for high political office, Nicholas Carnes, an assistant professor of public policy at Duke University recently collected these disturbing facts:
If one half of blue-collar workers had the $bling$ to run for office, they would fill every seat in Congress and all state legislatures 40 times over.
Even though millionaires represent 3% of American family incomes, they hold a super-majority in the Senate; a majority in the House; a majority on the Supreme Court; and, in the past 20 years, whoever winds up next in the Oval Office. The theory that Obama’s re-election had to do with our nation’s ‘public’ being sick and tired of rich people being in charge, Hilary Clinton’s $49 million or freshman Senator Elizabeth Warren’s $14 million won’t hurt if they opt to walk the trail in 2016.
On the last assessment (1999-2008), only 1.5% of the members of congress have ever held working-class jobs. Massachusetts holds the exception of Congressman Stephen Lynch. He was employed as a Boston iron worker for two decades. A government made up of people with no experiential or emotional connection to what it’s like to financially eek by, or worse, struggle to survive, doesn’t help safety net programs; pro-middle class tax policies; or business regulations to stop phone and electric companies, banks, transportation, the food and medical industry from making it too expensive to sustain healthy, productive lives. How is it ethically possible to attend a ten-thousand-dollars-a-plate luncheon when thousands of Americans can’t afford food or housing?
One of the ways our country’s political ruling class justifies their status is to hammer away at the alleged American way, which is that with a decent education, and an ethical upbringing, anyone can be rich and successful. The political cure for such rampant malarkey should be a mandate that every politician spend 24 hours living in Section 8 housing and attend any of their district’s urban or rural public schools.
Among the minority of up-from-the-bottom presidents is Abraham Lincoln. He was raised in a one room cabin, he did one year of school, he was known as a strapping rail-splitter, and just when his dad was moving up in the world as a land owner, he lost it all in a court battle over property rights. His father’s ugly and unexpected economic demise inspired Lincoln to self-educate, become a lawyer, and bankroll himself to the presidency. It should be noted that at a time when a black man becoming president was as likely as a pig flying, one of Lincoln’s most renowned quotes came from the Gettysburg Address. A speech in which President Lincoln reminded everyone of what we now need to be reminded of again: central to the Declaration of Independence is, “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”