‘Look, if you’ve been successful, you did not get there on your own. When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative but also because we do things together.” So said President Obama, campaigning in Roanoke Virginia, last week. He went on: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help”.
He listed great teachers, government research, roads and bridges and the whole fabric of the American system as various ways in which “somebody along the line” would have contributed to your success. This was the essence of the social liberalism of the great British thinker Leonard Hobhouse, but now championed by an American president. Hobhouse passionately argued that capitalist wealth was co-created by the interaction of society, social capital and the entrepreneur. Government investment, financed properly by taxation, was the precondition for a successful capitalism.
Fox News, self-appointed 21st-century American custodian of free-enterprise capitalism, rather as Pravda guarded communism, was on to the issue like a flash. In my New York hotel, I watched an overheated Fox commentator begin railing about socialism and before long Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took up Fox News’ cue as is mandatory for any Republican politician. The speech really “reveals what he [Mr Obama] thinks about our country, about free enterprise, about individual initiative, about America,” he declared. “Did you build your business? If you did, raise your hand.” Hands, pre-arranged, shot up. “Take that, Mr President,” he finished.
Read more: theguardian