"I don’t think people carry around with them a fixed ideology. I think the majority of people, they’re going about their business, going about their lives. They just want to make sure that we’re making progress. And that’s going to be my top priority over the next couple of years."-- President Obama, at today's press conference
The majority of Americans may not "carry around with them a fixed ideology," but they do carry around some powerful, if usually unarticulated, assumptions and beliefs. These stem from America's history and the mythical narratives and images that have become firm, one might even say fixed, elements of the national psyche. Without positing some historically-derived, widely shared political impulses ("ideas" would be perhaps too formal a word), it is hard to understand why so many Americans are susceptible (and have been susceptible for a long time) to rhetoric about "tax-and-spend liberals," "big government," "government interfering in our lives," "a government takeover of health care," etc. etc., when such rhetoric masks the facts that the U.S. taxes its citizens less than most other 'developed' countries and that its welfare provisions are less generous than those of most other 'developed' countries.
Why is the phrase "class warfare" such a toxic label in U.S. political discourse that it can be trotted out at a moment's notice to delegitimize attempts to address income and wealth inequality, which has grown to frightening and obscene levels in this country over the last 30 or so years? Why can struggling and economically hard-pressed voters be persuaded to vote for candidates who, far from proposing solutions to their problems, talk in the same breath about reining in spending and creating jobs (without bothering to explain how it is possible to do both simultaneously) and who spout slogans like "take back the government" without bothering to explain what that means? How was Ronald Reagan, a professional actor devoid of any notable grasp of issues, able to build an enormously successful career by uttering slogans like "let's get the government off our backs"? It's hard to answer these questions without positing a shared mythology holding that the genius of the American people lies in self-reliance, entrepreneurial initiative, and sheer determination to overcome all odds, and that this genius can only fully flourish and work its magic when the evil entity called "the government" located in that alien place called "Washington DC" removes its dead hand from individuals and corporations and allows them to mobilize the creative energies which, once unleashed, can assure that the U.S. remains, in the rather astoundingly hyperbolic albeit no doubt sincere words of several candidates in their victory speeches, "the greatest country ever known in the history of the world" [sic].