In the winter of his presidency, Barack Obama is touring the country—Idaho, Kansas—talking about something he calls “middle-class economics.” His Saturday radio address, a helpfully condensed version of his 59-minute, 57-second State of the Union speech, offered his definition of the idea:
“That’s what middle-class economics is—the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
Let’s try to unbundle this sentence.
It sounds familiar, until one notices that Mr. Obama has added something—the word “fair.”
In the traditional version, everyone at least gets a shot and does their share. But what, exactly, does the President of the United States mean by a “fair” shot and “fair” share?
Other than the president, the one other slice of the American population that obsesses over fairness everywhere is children. Every parent knows that about the age of four, kids in groups start saying, “That’s not fair.”
If you have a birthday party and cut pieces of the cake for all, one of them will say, “Her piece is bigger than mine. Why is she getting a bigger piece? That’s not fair.”
And parents, ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, have felt obliged to instruct their children on the reality. Life isn’t going to be “fair.” And the path into the future requires more than envy, tantrums and grabbing what belongs to others.
Cradle-to-grave fairness may be infantile, but the idea lives on, especially in politics and most of all in Mr. Obama’s mind.
He says middle-class economics means “two years of free community college, so we can keep earning higher wages down the road.”
How can community college be “free” for everyone? This isn’t middle-class economics. It’s Peter Pan economics. In the story of the boy who never grows up, Peter tells the Darling children they can fly if they “think lovely thoughts.”
In Mr. O’s world, tax revenue is sort of like Tinker Bell’s pixie dust. You just scoop up another handful and spread it wherever you want. As he said Saturday: Middle-class economics “means making it easier to afford childcare, college, paid leave, health care, a home, and retirement.”
Unraveling the Obama belief system is a challenge, so let’s take the lower, simpler road and agree with conventional wisdom that “middle-class economics” is mostly about where the votes are.
Mr. Obama is forcing Republicans to defend themselves against the undefinable progressive murk of “fairness,” and he is writing Hillary Clinton ’s campaign agenda before she starts selling him out. In short, the political class has decided that the middle class is ready for its close-up…