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Barack Obama’s War on Human Excellence

I wanted to add to Alana’s comments on the postby a major finanacer supporter of President Obama, Ted Leonsis, in which he takes the president to task for Mr. Obama’s repeated appeal to class warfare.

“I say this as I read all of the rhetoric about Class Warfare, the rift that is being created between economic middle and lower class and as the President said ‘those millionaires and billionaires,’” according to Leonsis. “The real rift in philosophy though is do you want the Government to create jobs and stimulate the economy or do you want America’s small business to be the engine of growth?”

Mr. Leonsis goes on to say this:

This is counter to the American Dream and is really turning off so many people that love America and basically carry our country on their back by paying taxes and by employing people and creating GDP. This is a bad move all designed by some pollster who said this is the way to get votes during the re-election. It should be stopped. We should be healing and creating teams NOT dividing and pitting people against one another… I voted for our President. I have maxed out on personal donations to his re-election campaign. I forgot his campaign wants to raise $1 billion. THAT is a lot of money–money–money–money! Money still talks. It blows my mind when I am asked for money as a donation at the same time I am getting blasted as being a bad guy!

The obvious question, of course, is what on earth was Mr. Leonsis expecting when he supported Mr. Obama in the first place. But set that aside for now. Mr. Leonsis’ core insight, which is that those who achieve financial success are viewed by the Obama administration (and most liberals) as a suspect class, bordering on being an enemy of the state, is quite important. So is his warning that the president is seeking to divide us by income and class.

All of this is of course very much at odds with how Abraham Lincoln (among others) understood the American Dream, which is based on upward mobility and ensuring equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome. “The progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account and hire somebody else … is the great principle for which this government was really formed,” Lincoln said.

Now it’s important to point out that an argument over the tax code and the relative burdens we place on people with different incomes is fully appropriate. A progressive tax system is defensible in my view and, more importantly, in the view of Adam Smith.

But what Mr. Obama is doing is something well beyond that. He is stoking the embers of class resentment. He views financial success with skepticism and wariness (a pass is given to Mr. Obama himself and other rich liberals). “Profits” is synonymous with greed. One of the primary functions of the state is to level out differences among citizens. Income needs to be redistributed. And the tax code is an instrument to achieve “fairness,” which the left views through a moral rather than an economic lens.

But there is something else going on here as well: The Obama presidency, animated by a progressive impulse, wants to punish success. The president wants to use the state to discourage high aspirations and high achievement. And this has radiating, injurious effects.

One of the concerns the philosopher Leo Strauss had about modern regimes was a lack of concern for human excellence. He believed, in the words [http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1075/article_detail.asp] of Tom West, “that government’s most important task is to help the citizens live the good life by promoting the right ideal of human excellence.”

That is in many respects an alien concept to our current president. He believes in using government, as well as his bully pulpit, to bludgeon those who excel in business and commerce. They need to punished, targeted, and marginalized. The fact that this is contrary to prosperity and flourishing matters hardly at all. To find this sentiment in a university professor would be predictable. To find it in an American president is quite rare – and quite pernicious as well.



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