Politics

Politics: Naomi Wolf on when Romney killed the ‘American Dream’

Naomi Wolf writes a piece in the Guardian in response to Mitt Romney’s historic ‘47%’ comments.  I’ve included a few excerpts:

What Romney’s comments reveal is that the American Dream is dead, killed off by skepticism from the bottom up – by the 99% of lower-income and middle-class people who no longer believe in it – and by cynicism from the top down – by the 1%, top-earning people who don’t believe in it.

What, after all, is the narrative of ‘the American Dream’? It was a discourse formulated between the 1880s and the 1920s in the United States during the great waves of migration and expansion and reforms of the Progressive Era. Slogans, often used by political leaders who wished to court the aspirational, immigrant vote, invoked a promise that America was ‘the land of opportunity’, where hard work, gumption and a bit of luck could make any poor kid a millionaire.

But now, the injunction to ‘work hard and play by the rules’ is more likely to elicit a cynical cough of derision than a rush to the polling station. PostTarp, post Libor scandal, post Madoff scheme, post justice department’s pass for Chase, post HSBC money-laundering, post Occupy, post the ever-widening income gap in this country, and post the evisceration of civil society and public institutions that protect the middle class, the entire underpinning of the American Dream has been uprooted. And everyone knows it.

What Romney’s remarks show is that the wealthy are handling the corruption of a system that benefits them by assigning blame for the destruction of the American Dream to the have-nots. In the Reagan years, only ‘welfare queens‘ and the small percentage of people actually on food stamps were targeted as drains on the system – needing ‘government handouts’ and failing to ‘take responsibility for their lives’. Now, as Romney admits, the wealthy deem virtually half the voting public as irredeemably shiftless moochers. Notable, too, is Romney’s use of an Occupy-echoing phrase, ‘the 47%’, whom he feels free to objectify and dismiss.

We thus see a turning-point in American conservative philosophy. This was the moment when the wealthy elite stopped believing its own PR, the self-affirming myth of that economic success can always be had for those who want it and are willing to work. Mitt Romney has told us that it’s now simply class war: a struggle to stop the other half getting what ‘we’ have. Thank you for your candor, Mr Romney.

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