President Obama recently addressed the charges made against him of waging “class warfare” and managed to inadvertently illustrate the growing sickness in American culture.
“This is one of the biggest things I’m going to be pushing back on this year, this notion that this is somehow class warfare, that we’re trying to stir up envy,” Obama said. “Nobody envies rich people, everybody wants to be rich. Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands you’ve got work hard to be successful. That’s the American way.”
The president states that the “American way” is the desire to be “rich.” This in itself is an empty pursuit. I could give Obama the benefit of the doubt and interpret his statement as shorthand for what money can provide — security, health, education, leisure. However, Americans in the Blackberry Age have sacrificed leisure and health for money and status. Education in America is viewed as merely a means to an end to achieve wealth. This is the Trade Schooling of the U.S. from journalism to law. The critical thinking skills learned in school is denigrated as “leftist indoctrination.” The Darwinian nature of the U.S. economy fuels the fear that keeps Americans running on their hamster wheels: We must stockpile enough money to cover our medical expenses if we get ill, and we need enough to maintain our dignity when we get old. We are just as scared and frightened as we were prior to discovering fire. The only difference is we have iPods.
Collectively, how rich are we? We aren’t very rich in the ways that matter, but how do we do on paper at least? The median household income in the United States in 2010 was $49,445. Charles M. Blow of The New York Times recently described the American sleight of hand involved when defining what it means to be “rich.”
…according to a December Gallup report, Americans set the rich threshold at $150,000 in annual income. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau 8.4 percent of households had an income of $150,000 or more in 2010.
…according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month, nearly a fifth of families making less than $15,000 said that they were middle class and nearly two-fifths of those making more than $100,000 said that they were middle class.
In certain ways, no one wants to be rich or poor. Denying the latter makes sense. It’s why bald men still buy Rogaine. However, I think no one wants to consider themselves “rich” because America views itself as the land of the middle class. The rich are the “elites” in New York, D.C., and California. “Rich” also has the connotation of unearned money. This is why you’ll often hear, “We’re not rich. We worked hard for what we have.”
On an emotional level, though, I think many Americans don’t feel “rich” because they don’t feel secure. The politicians who want to keep Americans on their hamster wheels find it increasingly necessary to knock other countries whose citizens do feel more secure. Canada took a rhetorical beating during the initial debates regarding the Affordable Health Care Act. Mitt Romney frequently derides Europe when warning voters about what Obama plans to do the U.S. This is interesting upon reflection — the Kenyan Muslim wants to make America more like the land of our (well, not really mine) forefathers. It’s almost flattering: Conservatives would never have accused Jesse Jackson of Eurocentrism 30 years ago.
Let’s examine this “European socialist welfare state” of Romney’s nightmares: The average salary in the European Union is 38,000 Euros, which based on the exchange rate roughly equals the U.S. average. Europe has economic woes — as does the U.S. The conservative spin is that Europe’s social programs are to blame, but the trail of blood leads to the same butler who killed the U.S. economy — shady banks and toxic assets. Romney can’t be bothered to explain how that relates to how the government uses its tax dollars. Most Europeans enjoy universal health care and free education. These are two areas that cause Americans a great deal of concern. As both grow more expensive, Americans continue to burn rubber on their hamster wheels.
The misinformation that Romney and others spread about Europe compared to the U.S. probably serves its purpose. My own admittedly biased experience is that people seem far happier there than here, where the resentment and fear produce the malignant growth known as FOX News. Europeans are less contentious about religion and value education. They do lack the “American dream,” which as a conservative acquaintance explained is the lack of a “new car” or “vacation home.” Even if this were true, when did the American dream no longer mean freedom but instead meaningless status symbols?
Keep those hamster wheels running. Don’t you feel richer all ready?