“The difference between the Soviet Union and the United States,” an elderly Russian woman said to me over a cup of rough black tea on my first visit to Moscow a quarter of a century ago, “is envy. If a Russian sees a new car parked at his neighbor’s house, he says, ‘I’m going to find out how he got it and turn him in.’
“But if an American sees a new car parked in front of his neighbor’s house, he says, ‘My, that is such a beautiful car. I’m going ask my neighbor how to get one of those for myself.'”
Alas, that was then, and this is now. The defining difference between liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, tea sipper and addict to castor oil, is envy. Bitter, unyielding and unforgiving envy.
The congressional struggle over whether to extend George W.’s tax cuts becomes not an argument over tax policy, or how to crawl out of a recession that won’t go away, but a titanic struggle between the poor little match girls of a hard, gloomy America and pot-bellied millionaires — nay, billionaires — who light cigars with hundred-dollar bills on Wall Street. Barack Obama has become the new traitor to his class. A headline in the Huffington Post, the Internet blog site, casts the message in the Arianna-speak of the guilty rich-by-marriage: “Obama Caves, the Rich Save.”
The Democrats in the House, eager to exact revenge for November, demonstrated their regard yesterday for the hicks and dummies who threw them out by rejecting the Senate compromise forged by Republicans and the White House that would save the tax cuts for the middle class the Democrats profess to love so much.
The great divide between Democrats who “get it” and those who don’t opens wider. Those who don’t get it grow mean and stingy, expressing their rage in ways petulant and petty, like the Clinton White House aides who disabled computer keyboards and pilfered whatever they could carry out of the house on the morning that George W. Bush arrived as the new tenant. It’s too much even for Barack Obama as he struggles up the ever steeper presidential learning curve. He told his no longer adoring Democrats this week that it was time to grow up and put away childish things. The arguments over taxes and immigration, he said, are mocking echoes of the health care debate.
“This is the public-option debate all over again,” he told a press conference at the White House. When he achieved health care legislation that Democrats had struggled to enact for nearly a century, the hickoryheads on his left “viewed it as weakness and compromise” because there was no public option. “Now, if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done. This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people.”
This is the kind of remedial English that might have done him and his party some good if he had said it when somebody was listening. But Mr. Obama has nobody but himself to blame for his party’s addiction to a diet of fantasy, illusion, magic and frantic willfulness to flee from reality. His election as president, he told the mesmerized thousands in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night two Novembers ago, was “the answer, spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic and Asian, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled.”
“America has sent a message to the world that we have never just been a collection of individuals, or that we have been a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America.” (And if you don’t believe it, you could look it up in Rand McNally.) Who wants red-meat reality when you can sup on soft, sweet pudding like that?