"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Romney and the Politics of Envy

Ace has a great riff on Romney's apparent minor surge in polling among women that got me to thinking:

Mitt Romney has been astonishingly successful in his career.
Barack Obama has, too, but it's a curious sort of success: A constant "social promotion" based only on his purported potential, never upon anything he actually achieved.
Mitt Romney has achieved, and he's received the natural fruits of achievement -- money, fame, influence.
Barack Obama has received the natural fruits of achievement, without bothering with that difficult "achievement" business in the first instance.
Mitt Romney seems like a Man.
Obama seems like a Boy who's been spoiled since birth.
Mitt Romney seems like a Man who got everything he wanted because he had talent and dedication and focus and worked for everything he wanted.
Barack Obama seems like a Boy who got everything the way many (myself included) secretly wish they could get them -- by having them mostly just given to him.
Some of us might pine for that sort of Charmed Life of Reilly, but comparing the two pathways to success, I don't think there's much doubt about which road we find more evincing of character and competence.
Obama seems weak and out of his depth, while Romney appears strong and in command.
Yes, I think women will notice these things, and so will men. I have trouble imagining how anyone could miss them.

All true but (and it's a big but)... there are a lot of people out there (I will call them High IQ, English major, "Artsy," Permanent grad student types, or HEAPs) whose politics are governed by resentment born of frustration that began in high school and continued through college and into adulthood. I'm smarter than that handsome rich kid who drives the Camaro... how come I don't get the Cheerleader to go out with? I got higher SATs than the football player... how come I don't get into the cool fraternity? I got better grades than the business or economics majors... how come they got higher-paying jobs at investment banks while I am doing noble work at this foundation/non-profit/public agency? I read deeper books and go to foreign films and read the New York Review of Books... how come my accountant brother-in-law lives in a house that's three times the size of mine? They never stop to notice that they simply don't do anything that provides value to anyone else sufficient that they will pay them a grand salary for what they're doing.  And they never think that maybe, just maybe, the sellouts who took STEM classes, or who went into the private sector, or who started companies... maybe those guys were smarter than they were all along.

The question is not whether Romney is more admirable than Obama to well-adjusted adults who admire his successes without envying them. Of course he is. The question is whether the adult party has more members than the party of resentment and frustration and envy.

I hope so. But I don't know so.

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