Since Nixon, the every-man-for-himself society has been said to bring the American dream to every man. It did not.
A large group of political and philosophical scholars subscribe to the idea of a “natural societal progression”, in some form or another. My take on that idea is that, in a reasonably democratic society, you can expect the people to create certain things through electing politicians who favor these things. The theory supposes, like most political theories do, that people are predominantly selfish in their voting habits. The usual story in the West has been that the introduction of democracy has led to the creation of economic security for citizens first, and later, elements of “softer” values such as the environment, feminism and cultural issues have gained in importance. In other words, when citizens are given a right to vote, they tend to see to their own, down-to-earth, “put-food-on-the-table needs” first, and only later move on to really care about whatever philosophical convictions they may have. Generally speaking, the introduction of democracy in Western society has in the vast majority of countries, in the initial stage, created a progression that looks something like this:
1. Labor rights, including laws regarding safety, collective bargaining, vacation time and influence in decision-making
2. Pension rights, guaranteeing all workers an adequate amount of pension beyond the working life
3. Health insurance, free for everyone for life
4. Access to affordable education through MA level
For the most part, these goals were achieved in all Western countries by the 1960s. These innovations and reforms became hugely popular among the citizens of these countries, and to this day, it would be political suicide to try to get rid of them. As in many other aspects of politics, The United States is the exception. The United States has never created a social safety net for its citizens, and for whatever reason, not many politicians are advocating such a creation. The country was on its way of creating a social safety net in the middle part of the 1900s, but after the societal convulsions of the 1960s, “put-food-on-the-table” needs were wiped off the political agenda in favor of cultural issues. This started a process like the “natural societal progression” completely in reverse! Instead of non-wealthy voters desiring more security, they elected politicians who advocated, for them, less security. As the voters got less security, they did not focus on getting more, but they focused more on cultural issues.
This is truly unique in the modern world, but I believe, as many do, that this brand of politics is coming to an end. With the election of Barack Obama, the writing is on the wall.
I believe that Obama represents a return to a focus on social safety for American citizens, and there is no doubt in my mind that that is why he was elected president. If Obama is able to successfully implement reforms that will bring social safety to Americans, it will become political suicide for American politicians to try to get rid of them. Imagine a situation where all inhabitants in a poor constituency in Virginia enjoys free healthcare, six weeks vacation per year, and good pensions. If a politician were to suggest to get rid of all that, in exchange for unfettered gun rights and lower taxes for the rich, what do you think the voters would say?
Barack Obama now has the clearest of mandates from the American people to do what he thinks is right. Obama must implement social reforms step by step, and implement them well. He must reverse the trend that has brought America back to the social situation of the 1920s, and if he does, no matter how Wall Street is doing, he will be elected again. The election of Brack Obama represents the end of an era of a misguided economic philosophy that dictates that an every-man-for-himself society can create wealth and well-being for every man.