Thursday, December 5, 2013

Naked Inequality

From time to time, when uncomfortable topics come up in professional or personal discussions, Americans often have a tendency to shy away. Many folks will simply clam up or try to change the subject, while others will try to mock the subject, effectively shaming others into changing the topic of conversation.

As Greg Sargent noted of President Obama's historic speech on Wednesday, in the midst of a massive number of unprecedented political moves against him and his policies, this President has chosen to make yet another ambitious move - to push forward against the rising tide of economic inequality in the U.S. today.

Not surprisingly, and as both Greg and Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly pointed out, many of our colleagues in the media - especially those on the right - will simply write off President Obama's comments and intentions for action as another distraction from whatever easy, empty political firestorm they'd rather cover.

As the President made abundantly clear on Wednesday, however, economic inequality in America is "the defining challenge of our time."

The President addressed several key parts of that challenge, including stagnant incomes for lower- and middle-class Americans, and stagnant or even diminished economic mobility. The same "trickle-down ideology" that Pope Francis recently blasted as a proven failure, was also cited by President Obama as a key force that has caused America to stop investing in our infrastructure, weakened the power of American workers, and has crippled much of our educational system over the last thirty years.

As President Obama nearly always does, he didn't simply state the problems at hand and note his opposition to them. He came prepared with several solutions that he boldly laid out, including a substantial increase to the minimum wage, a position that over three-quarters of Americans already agree with the President on.

That shouldn't be surprising. Not only has the minimum wage in America not kept pace with inflation, but the median average wage for U.S. workers also recently fell to the lowest level in fifteen years. Sadly, none of the thousands of fast food workers slated to protest in over 100 cities across America on Thursday would likely be surprised by these statistics.

What the President also made clear on Wednesday was that the wealthiest Americans have broken the social contract better known by most people worldwide as 'The American Dream.' That violation, due to the naked ambition and greed of Americans like those lining the criminal canyons of Wall Street, has nearly wiped out the premise that so many Americans console themselves with, whether in hardship or prosperity.

That premise is this: It is no longer a given that Americans can become anything they want anymore regardless of the economic class into which they were born - a fact the President noted on Wednesday is far out of sync with the vision of America's founding fathers.

As economists from Paul Krugman to Joe Stiglitz have pointed out, Americans must make a choice when it comes to the issue of economic inequality. As uncomfortable as that subject is, President Obama chose to tackle it head-on in Wednesday's address, noting that Americans cannot simply remain clothed in ignorance if we expect to be the kind of 'nation of opportunity' many still claim that we are.

As President Obama clearly reminded us all on Wednesday, it's time Americans made it that way once again.