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President Obama Shouldn’t Shame People Who Aspire To His Success


I hate hashtags, but his recent remarks compel me to bestow the #ICantEven award on President Obama.


Obama has got to be the least self-aware person alive. So I guess he represents the ultimate magnification of the worst in American culture. Here’s the self-made, multi-millionaire president of the freakity freakin’ free world, talking about poverty at one of the globe’s most glitterati-studded universities:

Obama criticized the free-market system in America for allowing higher concentrations of wealth to exist among the rich while the bottom percentage was being left behind and receiving a smaller portion of that wealth.

‘Those who are doing better and better, more skilled, more educated, – luckier – having greater advantages are withdrawing from the commons,’ he said. ‘Kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks, an anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.’

That led fewer people to care about public institutions, Obama explained, leading to government cuts to important public functions – making the nation less equal.

First point: If Obama wanted to break barriers between rich and poor, maybe he could start by going to events in, you know poor places. Talking to poor people about poverty. I mean real poor people, not poor people his aides have decided to exploit by staging them for the media. Except maybe he shouldn’t do that, because he’d just be back at his community organizing job, inciting people to blame other people for their poverty rather than being proactive about it.

Try Visiting the Poor Before Victimizing Them

As someone who actually lives in a poor, working-class neighborhood, I’d like to tell him why people like me and my neighbors “withdraw from the commons.” Because communal property empowers barbarians. I once took my toddlers to a nearby park where I’ll never return because there we all got to hear to hear filthy words and ideas from kids I couldn’t tell to go home or zip their lips. We had to breathe secondhand smoke from creepy middle schoolers who decided to play hooky from school, and the phone-addicted, inattentive parents of other toddlers. You bet I take my babies somewhere else. Because “the commons” means “the lowest common denominator.” And some people’s parents teach them manners. Other people’s don’t.

Communal property empowers barbarians.

And don’t tell me it’s always possible to get people to use the commons productively. Just a few weeks ago, my husband asked neighbors to turn down the rap music booming from their car so loud we could hear it inside our baby’s room with all the windows and doors closed, through the night-time noise machine. The next day, the neighbor physically threatened and berated my husband for having made that simple, non-threatening, polite request. We could have called the cops, but we figured neighbors work things out together. But some people don’t want to act like neighbors, and they don’t want to learn. And I’m supposed to be forced to subject myself and my kids to their brutality?

Last. A few months ago, I invited into my living room a single mom I’d met on our block because our little boys play together. We exchanged chocolate, and the kids exchanged stickers. Yes, she and her son are black, and no, my little white kids don’t even know that “black” can apply to skin color. They just know that any people their size are good bike-race candidates. This mother had asked if she could come over so we could talk about how to get her son out of his assigned public school. Our state voucher program requires kids to enroll in public schools for a year before they can get their ticket to hope in a private school where parents have some measure of influence over peers and curriculum. There’s a workaround, which I told her about, and you should have seen her excitement. Our local public schools are excrement.

Do We Really Want Barbarians Running the Streets?

This momma is no dummy. That little boy is her treasure. She doesn’t want him subjected to “communal ownership,” she wants to get him to a good place so she doesn’t lose him. Can anyone blame her? And why would anyone blame anyone who does whatever they can to get their kids onto a path of opportunity? President Obama has done so himself. Everyone knows his daughters attend a super-expensive private school. Instead of shutting the doors to other people’s kids, like he blames his fellow attentive parents for doing, if President Obama really cares for the poor he should think about how to get them access to better places, places where they don’t have to subject their needs to the vagaries of the rabble passing through who can somehow claim “ownership” to other people’s children, property, and futures.

Blaming people for responding logically to living in areas that have been overrun with vandals and weren’t warded off by the police and other standard-bearers is exactly the wrong response.

Surveys show parents’ top reasons for choosing to pay both for public and private school are all about environment. They want teachers to actually pay attention to their students, they want fellow students to be held to high standards of behavior, and they want their child to be free from verbal and physical violence and neglect. Blaming people for responding logically to living in areas that have been overrun with vandals and weren’t warded off by the police and other standard-bearers is exactly the wrong response. The right response to my neighbor with that little son is to give her a way out, to get her baby into a good school now, not to tell her to wait until someone, somewhere, manages to raise taxes and socially engineer history’s first high-quality government welfare monopoly. The right response is to blame the perpetrators who make schools and towns and parks violent, unpleasant, and unlivable, to punish and shame them instead of their innocent victims.

Communal ownership leads to pollution. See overfishing. Communist Russia. A tray of desserts at a child’s birthday party when the parents aren’t looking. Only ownership preserves property. People care for what is theirs. It’s one reason parents are the best childraising institution anyone’s ever devised. We need to strengthen this powerful impetus rather than torch it. President Obama should stop blaming the ownership system that gives people a personal investment in success, the rewards at the top of the ladder that induce people to climb. It’s awfully mean of him to reach world’s highest position and roll that success ladder up after him. It’s even meaner for him to tell other people they be ashamed for pursuing the advantages he rightly gives his own daughters.