- - Monday, January 13, 2014

President Obama has all but announced that this fall’s House and Senate campaigns should focus not on the collapse of American influence abroad, or on the continuing disaster that we know as Obamacare, or even on the apparent inability of his policies to create jobs, but on “income inequality.”

The mantra from the administration, like the rantings of the “Occupy” crowd and the new finger-pointing quasi-Marxist mayor of New York City, is that in today’s United States, it is impossible to get ahead unless one is born rich, works on Wall Street or finds some other way to profit from the misery of others.

Their rhetoric and proposed policies play on envy and remind one of the class warfare that has dominate European politics for so long.

Historically, betting on class warfare as a way to win a U.S. election is a bad bet. The United States is not Europe, and Americans have never been envious of the success of others. Americans have always believed in what almost from the beginning has been known as the American dream. The president is betting this is no longer true.

The belief that a political focus on “income inequality” and the politics of class envy will work is, in reality, a challenge to the very concept of the American dream.

Class envy and class warfare have never appealed to many Americans for the simple reason that most Americans of every background have always believed that through hard work, they or their children and grandchildren would achieve a freer, happier and more prosperous life than that enjoyed by their parents and grandparents.

It is this perception that attracts immigrants to the United States. They come seeking opportunity — economic opportunity and the freedom to make both economic and non-economic choices for themselves and their families.

They come from countries that offer little in the way of social mobility. Class is the great determiner in most of the world. Working-class and peasant parents produce working-class and peasant children.

Those fortunate enough to be born into the upper classes are coddled, largely secure and uncomfortable with the specter of men and women with ambition, drive and talent joining them at the top.

It’s been different in the New World. Class has always counted for far less. Sure, the wealthy had a head start, but yeoman farmers, folks who came as indentured servants and who arrived penniless believed in their bones that their dreams could come true. For millions over two centuries, they did.

As a result, Americans didn’t envy the family down the block or in the next neighborhood for their nicer homer or better car. They applauded its success, because they knew that sooner or later, they too would have a house as nice and a car as comfortable as they desired — all it would take would be hard work, discipline and the optimism of a people looking forward to a better and more prosperous tomorrow.

The politics of class worked in the countries from which many of these families came because it was extremely difficult in their native countries to rise on the basis of merit and hard work.

The affluence of one’s neighbors wasn’t something to which one could reasonably aspire. It was out of reach to most because of a system that virtually forced generation after generation to accept the fate of those who came before.

Under such circumstances, envy and even hatred of those who were born into better circumstances became almost natural and could be exploited by politicians of the left and right.

Democrats this year are betting that they may today be able to exploit envy in ways that have never worked here in the past. They are betting, in effect, that the average citizen’s belief in the American dream has weakened and, unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that they might be right.

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