An article run by BusinessWeek and Bloomberg News on February 9th, 2010 read “Obama: I Don’t Begrudge JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs their multi-million dollar bonuses”, quoting Obama as saying “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.” This of course led the Huffington Post and other left-wing sites to respond with headlines such as ‘He Doesn’t Get It!’.
We have to differentiate between the political demands of a moment, and the sober judgments involving time for reflection on history. Obama may be too much of an intellectual and philosopher for his own good as a politician. I know that he has read Nietzsche and other writers critical of populism Left and Right and its resentment (or resentiment). Although the lesson is against populism in general, for someone like Obama the arguments come home to show how the Left and progressives can be self-poisoning by means of resentment.
Of course we want the economy to improve so that everyone is helped, but Obama implicitly recognizes the the usually-conservative charge that rage against individual success — even when that success is quite extravagant — has never been a sustainable American political strategy. It is because this sentiment is not embedded in American culture that Marxism never took great hold here, and despite my empathy at times, it is probably for the best. Being too smart for his own good weakens Obama politically. I am inclined to agree with conservative critics that he may be too much of an intellectual, having too much of a sense of being above politics, to be effective at the presidency. Even if he is not reelected, I believe American history will remember him for being one of its more philosophic politicians, like a John Adams or Abraham Lincoln.