Michelle Obama’s “Shhhh” Moment, and her husband’s plans to spread the wealth

In his book The Promise, left-wing writer Jonathan Alter recounts the following incident from President Obama’s first year in office:

A congressman approached the first lady at a White House reception after the [stimulus] bill’s passage and told her the stimulus was the best anti-poverty bill in a generation. Her reaction was “Shhhh!” The White House didn’t want the public thinking that Obama had achieved long-sought public policy objectives under the guise of merely stimulating the economy, even though that’s exactly what had happened.

Stanley Kurtz picks up on this theme in his brilliant, must-read book Spreading The Wealth: How Obama Is Robbing The Suburbs To Pay For the Cites. Kurtz shows that spreading the wealth is the central organizing principle of Obama’s ideology, and his deepest aspiration as president.

So far, Obama has worked toward his wealth-spreading agenda very cautiously, as Michelle Obama’s “Shhhh” moment suggests. However, the stimulus bill was redistributionist, as the congressman referred to by Alter said. Obamacare is highly redistributionist, as well.

But the centerpiece of Obama’s agenda — the redistribution of money from the suburbs to the cities — is still mostly in the plotting stages. Thus, a more accurate title for Kurtz’s book might have been “How Obama Plans To Rob The Suburbs To Pay For The Cities In A Second Term.”

How can Obama “rob the suburbs”? In brief, and to oversimplify, he hopes to accomplish this by conditioning federal grant money on the creation and/or use of “regional” bodies, as opposed to standard governmental units like cities, towns, and counties. The regional bodies would be controlled by a coalition of cities and poorer “inner ring” suburbs and aided by regulations and additional conditions imposed by Washington to the disadvantage of the suburbs. This alliance of Washington and “regional” politicians would push for regional “revenue sharing,” consolidation of school districts, and other measures designed to halt the expansion of suburbs and eventually push people back into the cities.

To get the details, you’ll have to read the book. If you do, and you should, you will learn how Obama has set the stage for this power grab through the work of his “Sustainable Communities” initiative, which is dominated by key figures from the community organizing movement, including Obama’s former community organizing trainer and boss.

But why would Obama risk the eventual alienation of a key portion of his current coalition by “robbing” the suburbs for the benefit of cities? At one level, the answer is straightforward – that’s where the money is. If he wants to redistribute money, suburbs are where to find it. Obama is not willing to alienate suburbanites in his first term, but why not go for it in his second?

But Kurtz shows that something more is at work. Taking another look at Obama’s autobiography, Kurtz finds that the future president’s contempt for the suburbs is a major subtext of Dreams From My Father.

Many of us of a certain age expressed contempt for “the burbs” when we were young (I don’t think any of my other radical views upset my mother, who grew up in a Brooklyn tenement, as much). Most of us outgrew this contempt. But Obama apparently has not. Perhaps that’s because his contempt is tied more to left-wing ideology (the suburbs are to blame for the woes of cities) than to aesthetics. Or maybe his contempt is really directed at the folks who populate the suburbs (we know he looks down on country folk who cling to their guns, etc).

In any event, Kurtz makes a strong case for what I initially thought was a questionable thesis about where Obama intends to go in his second term.

Reading Spreading The Wealth, I came away thinking that the radical left, so naïve and self-destructive when I was part of it 40 plus years ago, has emerged from the wilderness as far more clever than the rest of us. Fortunately, the contemporary left is not more clever than Stanley Kurtz, who has sounded an alarm the rest of us would do well to heed.

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