When kids started camping out in parks and yelling about being broke and not having a job, many people wondered, and rightfully so, what the point of all that crap was. What kind of difference can a bunch of kids getting arrested make? It turns out, based on President Obama’s speech yesterday, it can make quite a bit of difference. Having people get pepper sprayed on national television and having people get arrested all over the country can make a President assert points that he might have always believed but was politically afraid to actually say with conviction. Points like this:
Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty. Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ‘50s and ‘60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory.
Now, this kind of inequality — a level that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression — hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity, of strong consumers all across the country. That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars he made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run. Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. It leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them, that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.
Some would argue, correctly, that the President is just being political, saying whatever he can to get re-elected next year. Yes, that’s true. He is. But, by talking about economic inequality and social justice, he is only asking for the votes of a few people, not everyone. People with conservative economic views disagree with his statements. They philosophically think the President, and people that think like him, are wrong. President Obama is heavily putting himself into the “Us” of the “Us vs. Them” battle. He is pointing a finger and he is saying, “If you think the way I do, vote for me. If you don’t, well, I’m sorry.” He can’t walk back from a speech like this one, and, if he is re-elected (which might not happen), he’ll have to hold true to his statements. I don’t really care if you believe what the President (and I) believe. That’s not the point of this post. The point is, President Obama would have never given this speech if some hippies in New York and Portland and Oakland and LA and DC and Chicago didn’t have the courage and forethought to put their bodies in front of cameras and police and yell about about some odd concept called, “The 99%”. Praise due.