Fareed Zakaria says the Obama re-election campaign has the wrong message: instead of emphasizing 'the Buffett rule' and reducing inequality, the President, according to Zakaria, should stress his proposals to increase spending on infrastructure, R&D, and education, and Obama should contrast those proposals with the Republican focus on budget-cutting.
Zakaria believes, apparently, that the Obama campaign can't walk and chew gum at the same time: either it must focus on reducing inequality or focus on investment in infrastructure, etc. But why not emphasize both? Here's where, if I may switch from one bad metaphor to another, the rubber hits the road: Zakaria doesn't like all this talk about inequality. Why not? Because it runs counter to his shopworn view of Americans' moral psychology: Americans, he writes, are "aspirational" not "envious," therefore focusing on inequality is bad politics in the long run.
This is, to be blunt, a load of crap. The U.S. now has a more unequal distribution of income than Kenya (and several other developing countries). The notion that you must be "envious" if you want a multi-millionaire or billionaire to shoulder a slightly larger share of the tax burden is nonsense.
Americans aren't envious, they are "aspirational": how many thousands of times have you heard this bromide repeated by one pundit or another? Americans don't envy the rich, God forbid; they want to become rich themselves. What if the real situation is that Americans want a less unequal distribution of wealth and income because huge inequalities are offensive to a basic sense of justice?
Zakaria, who earned a Harvard Ph.D. with a political science dissertation on the U.S.'s growth and emergence as a world power at the turn of the twentieth century, is slated to be the main speaker at Harvard's commencement this spring. If he trundles out this platitudinous b.s. about envy and aspiration in his speech on that occasion, I hope he gets booed off the podium.