Inequality on the agenda for real?

Inequality on the agenda for real?

by digby

I'm sure there is much weeping and wailing and rending of garments in the corridors of Third Way and Fix the Debt today: President Obama gave a nice speech today about income inequality --- and he didn't mention cutting "entitlements" even once. And he didn't express a spirit of compromise and bipartisanship either. I'm afraid the Village smelling salt concession must be all sold out.

CNN reported it this way:

The growing gap between rich and poor Americans is threatening the ideals the country was founded upon, President Barack Obama said in remarks Wednesday that appeared to signal a leftward turn in his economic agenda.

Making sure that the U.S. economy works for every working American is "the defining challenge of our time," Obama said in a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. He later said the "dangerous and growing" income and opportunity gap is jeopardizing the notion that if people work hard, they can get ahead.

“The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough, but the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty, because she lacks a decent education or health care or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us,” Obama said during his remarks.

To combat the chasm between haves and have-nots, Obama called for a hike in the federal minimum wage, saying an increase is a good step for families and the economy as a whole.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have pushed for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 an hour. A proposal would boost it to about $10, and the White House has said Obama supports such a measure.

On Wednesday, Obama also made a general push to simplify the tax code, provide more work training in high schools, and make it easier for Americans to save for retirement.

Those are notions Obama has presented before; however, by packaging them into a clear plan for the next three years, Obama seemed to be making a play to revive his core of liberal supporters, who over the past several months have weathered the disappointments of his health care rollout and allegations of NSA spying.

Obama took sharp aim at Republicans during his remarks, saying they had failed to present their own plans for pulling Americans out of poverty.

“If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor, let's hear them. I want to know what they are,” Obama said.

Even CNN seems to have finally noticed that something rather startling has happened:

While Wall Street indexes and corporate earnings have reached new highs, the situation for low and middle class Americans has largely remained dire, including a jobless rate that remains high and scores of people who have given up looking for work.

The current economy is “profoundly unequal,” Obama proclaimed on Wednesday.

“Growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America's basic bargain, that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead,” Obama said. “I believe this is the defining challenge of our time, making sure our economy works for every working American.”

The problem of income disparity, and the fight for a higher minimum wage, have gained renewed attention in the past weeks - low wage fast food workers have staged one-day strikes across the country demanding higher paychecks, and protesters stood outside Wal-Marts and other box stores on Black Friday demanding employees be paid better.


I can only wonder what might have happened if the administration had "pivoted" strongly (instead of sporadically)to this message, which has been obvious for years, rather than blindly adhere to its original Grand Bargain reform agenda of "shared sacrifice" on deficits and spending. It's not that he hasn't said it before --- he did, in his Kansas speech back in 2011. But his actual policies and more consistent exhortations to be "fiscally responsible" led us into another round of austerity that's going to make the agenda he spoke of today that much harder.

Still, it's important for the president to talk about this stuff. I know that the bully pulpit doesn't move numbers and maybe it doesn't move voters in the short run, but I absolutely to believe that it can, over time, change the way people think about our national problems and priorities. It's good to see the president making the case. Let's hope that the candidates running for office in 2014 and 2016 take a page from this book and amplify it in their own races.

Read the whole thing, here.