Is Obama a Traitor to His Class?

As businessmen, including many who supported Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, continue to go public with complaints about regime uncertainty and its discouraging effect on the economy’s recovery, some observers are speculating that the tycoons’ animus is driven at least in part by their sense of betrayal: they had recognized Obama as a member in good standing of their class (aptly known as the ruling class) and supported his rise to power, yet his policies have brought about conditions in which it is impossible for them to prosper.

As Andrew Ross Sorkin has written recently in the New York Times:

Mr. Obama was viewed as a member of the elite, an Ivy League graduate (Columbia, class of ’83 . . .), president of The Harvard Law Review—he was supposed to be just like them. President Obama was the “intelligent” choice, the same way they felt about themselves. They say that they knew he would seek higher taxes and tighter regulation; that was O.K. What they say they did not realize was that they were going to be painted as villains.

So, once again, Barack Obama’s presidency reflects that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the well-heeled playboy-politician who ascended the political ladder while living very comfortably, owing to his forebears’ accumulation of wealth, and circulated with complete ease among the “best people.” (Note: In FDR’s case, the credentials were the reverse of Obama’s—Harvard College, graduated 1904; Columbia Law School, attended but dropped out in 1907, having already passed the New York State bar exam.) After Roosevelt became president, however, especially from 1935 onward, he was reviled as a “traitor to his class” because of his attacks on “economic royalists,” whom he blamed for the Depression and for the New Deal’s failure to restore prosperity. Perhaps before long the contemporary moguls will revive the American Liberty League.

Too many Americans think of Barack Obama as somehow alien to the established politico-economic order. Many accuse him of all sorts of affiliations and loyalties at odds with the preservation of that order. In my view, however, he is as American as apple pie—as American as Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was not born in a sharecropper’s shack; he did not walk six miles barefooted through the snow, uphill both ways, to attend school; he has always been a successful player in the upper reaches of the participatory fascist system that thickheaded Americans revere as “democracy in action” in the “land of the free.”

So, yes, the billionaires have a perfect right to feel betrayed. They accepted Obama as one of their own; they supported his rise to power, from his student days onward; and they bankrolled his election as president. But, now, after directing hundreds of billions of dollars toward politically well-connected firms in the course of the various bailouts and Fed effusions his administration has inherited, sponsored, or overseen, he has decided to make the Wall Street movers and shakers his whipping boys.

Before concluding that these cry babies are only getting what they richly (pun intended) deserve, we might well pause to consider that the Obama administration’s policies are, in fact—just as big-league investors and businessmen are increasingly saying publicly—creating regime uncertainty that seriously impedes the recovery of private investment, which must be an essential part, indeed, the very beating heart of any genuine restoration of prosperity.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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