President Obama's Roanoke speech was not really an insult to businessmen. No, in fact, it was far worse: it was a threat.
Worse still, it was a threat rooted in a long and ugly racial history in the United States.
Consider that Obama mentioned, early in his remarks, teachers and urban infrastructure like roads.
When Obama says "you didn't build that," he is employing the rhetorical strategies of two subcultures that he remains closely involved with:
(1) the urban Democratic political machines that often shake down both businesses and minorities using City Hall's power over permits, union jobs, fines, and bonds; and
(2) the higher education system that has monopolized credentialing and apprenticeships, forcing racial minorities into submissive gratitude by inserting affirmative action into their careers at early stages.
While Mitt Romney and Barack Obama both hail from Harvard professional schools, Obama has shown a weirdly deep loyalty to Columbia and Harvard, as evidenced by the number of appointees in his administration who have come from those two schools (for example, Eric Holder and Elena Kagan), and by Obama's financial indebtedness to Harvard, whose employees constitute one of the largest contributors to his 2008 campaign. He feels he owes the Ivy League something.
Funny thing: I'm an Ivy Leaguer, and I don't feel indebted.
Unlike Barack Obama, I attended public schools from kindergarten through high school in a small town outside Buffalo, until 1988, when I entered the freshman class at Yale University.
My childhood haunt was a heavily Democratic environment (for heaven's sake, my county voted for Walter Mondale in 1984!). Labor unions commanded the awe of people desperate to land secure jobs handed out by local bosses. The county and the local university were the biggest employers. Partly because of the antics of party bigwigs like Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin, I was wary of white Democrats from as early as I could remember.
White Democrats in that declining Rust Belt controlled the entry-level opportunities through corrupt practices and often blatant ethnic cronyism. To get approved for a loan and start your own business (as my mother did, for example), you'd have to work through regulations, certifications, and licensing. Irritate the white folks by straying from the local party line, and presto! The sanitation company won't empty your septic tank, the health inspector shows up, and you're fined out of business. Even more relevant to Obama's speech, they'll decide to close the road leading to your business for "repairs" that last two years!
Thugs in such a climate get you indebted to them pre-emptively. They make sure you can't get ahead without their collusion, and once you do get ahead, they claim with chutzpah that you owe them. Two sayings I hated: "don't bite the hand that feeds you" and "don't burn your bridges." Basically, the liberal "pro-civil rights" whites in my memory inserted themselves into one's life and then retroactively claimed credit for anything one did.
When I was accepted to the University of Michigan, Columbia, and Yale in the spring of 1988, I thought, quite naively, that I had my ticket out of the suffocating Democratic Party machine of Buffalo. I saw my mother's struggles as a Puerto Rican businesswoman battling against white paternalism, and I wanted better for myself, which I thought I'd find if only I could get out of western New York.
I'd heard murmurs about affirmative action and knew some would say I didn't deserve to get into those schools, but I figured once I was there I'd put all the murmurs to rest. I finished ninth in my high school class. My SATs were about 1300. Who could say I didn't deserve whatever I got by going to Yale?
Unlike Barack Obama, I don't feel indebted to the Ivy League after the fact.
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