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Alex Castellanos Headshot

A Long Fall From an Ivory Tower

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President Obama places great stock in experts. Mid-health care debate, he lectured Republicans, "there's got to be a mechanism in these plans that I can go to an independent health care expert and say, is this something that will actually work, or is it boilerplate?" Responding to a series of crises, he explained, "I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers." Washington's problem, all these years, has been insufficient expertise. From a taller ivory tower, we could see where America should head.

We appreciate in others what we value in ourselves. Gifted with intellectual ability and cool detachment, President Obama prefers experts who give great thought to their specialties, not those of lesser capacity who only work in the field in question. His administration is filled with lawyers, professors, economists, consultants, and scientists. Real businessmen and laborers are sparse. Beyond Interior Secretary Salazar, who was a partner in the family farm for 30 years, business experience in the Obama Cabinet drops off like a bad day on Wall Street. There isn't a businessman in his inner sanctum. In Obamaland, an expert is one who studies those who work, not someone who has actually experienced it.

In these academic explorations, experts like our President find it easy to divide Americans into political categories their bright minds must manage. Pinned to a small mounting board, for example, are the rich, unproductive and undeserving. Displayed in a larger frame is everyone who has avoided great wealth because they are much better Americans. In the real world, however, Washington's class divisions feel dated. Rarely do any Americans cut the economy into distinct and disconnected groups. In fact, what those outside the political class have learned would surprise their elite assessors: The rich don't have an economy of their own. Theirs is ours and ours is theirs.

When Donald Trump buys gas, for example, Warren Buffet doesn't usually pump it. When Bill Gates purchases a Happy-Meal, Michael Bloomberg isn't behind the counter. When Larry Ellison gets his bathroom remodeled, Sergey Brin won't be doing the work. Instead, today's Americans find themselves increasingly connected, not separated, by their financial interactions. Americans of all classes work for and serve each other. If there ever was a time you could singe the rich and not burn everyone around them, this is not the moment. Americans have noticed that when Wall Street melts down, it is working people's retirement plans that go under. When banks fail, everyone's homes lose value. We dance together in an organic and lifelike economy, an all-encompassing web of co-evolving relationships. The linear world of the industrial age has been replaced by one of emergent and interlaced networks. In this connected world, you can't take water from one side of a bucket -- but that's exactly what our governing elite intends.

President Obama would tax his most successful specimens as if they are outside our economy. The rich, he tells us, can afford higher taxes and, of course, they can. The better question, connected as we all are, is whether we can afford to de-incentivize the hitters with the highest economic batting averages and separate them from their social responsibility in the private sector. When the rich get money, they usually want to get richer, so they invest in things that grow, like businesses that create jobs for Americans. Can we really afford to disconnect their money from our economic ecosystem, where they are stimulated to create jobs, growth, and wealth?

Keeping the most economically muscular hitched to our financial wagon is especially important now, when Americans see themselves competing for prosperity, not with Wall Street, but with China. Less than three in ten Americans believe our country will remain the world's most powerful nation at the end of this century, fearing we will cede our economic supremacy to Beijing. Those who divide inter-connected Americans by class, pitting one of us against the other, seem blind to our country's real challenge: If we don't recognize our common economic interests and unite to compete with the world and win, all of us will soon be poorer. Our governing elite will have little to redistribute.

No one should appreciate our new interconnected world more than Barack Obama. It elected him. His empowering, bottom-up campaign brought together Wall Street tycoons and Hollywood mega-stars with a hopeful young generation, newly inspired minorities, and suburban soccer moms. Together, they moved beyond class divisions and overthrew the old world, chanting, "Yes, we can." Since then, they've waited to be empowered, as they were promised. But their President has grown the power of the old elite, not lessened it. We see him on the news, lifting his chin when he speaks, as if he is looking down on voters. It is not the people he trusts, but anointed academics and czars. His policy? "Yes, Washington can."

Soon, Barack Obama will be freed from the ball and chain that has tied him to the high-handed political elite of a vanishing world. On November 2nd, he will be cut loose from the Democratic Congressional establishment. The small, partisan attacks of campaign 2010 will disappear and great campaigner of 2008 will rediscover his voice. Obama will pivot to what was best in him, the orator who promised, not to grow Washington, but to change it, not to divide and distrust Americans, but to unite and elevate us again. What we do not yet know about this President is whether, like his doppelganger, Bill Clinton, he can admit fallibility. Experts seldom admit mistakes and this one does not seem prepared to confess his elitist tilt is one of the greatest errors a modern President has made. Will Obama admit what everyone else knows, that he must change direction? Probably not. Instead, he will say we have changed. He will tell us that two years ago, America sent him a left-leaning, we-know-best Congress and he worked with them. Now, he will report, America has sent him a more centrist body and he will work with them.

This will be Obama's post-election pivot and the launch of his of reelection campaign, but this time, he'll have to color in the numbers. Obama will have to advance policy, not just rhetoric, that takes money and power from the hands of the public sector elite and devolves it beyond the beltway. It would be a breathtaking pirouette, a ground-shaking reversal of his initial agenda - but it is what candidate Obama promised. And he has precedent: He's begun to move power and money out of elite hands with education reform. It is his most popular piece of work.

Can Obama pivot towards bottom-up, doctor-patient centered health-care decision-making, as David Cameron is proposing in Great Britain? Can he cut spending and taxes and trust Americans to grow the economy naturally and organically, instead of leaving it to Washington experts to grow politically and artificially? Can Barack Obama trust the intelligence and abilities of 300 million Americans when he has such great regard for his own faculties?

It seems eternally longer but it was just two years ago that Obama told Americans, "We are the change we have been waiting for." Trusting us, not the governing elite, was his brightest promise. He will get one last chance to deliver on it after November 2nd.