Tuesday, December 06, 2011

We are greater together than we are on our own

I watched President Obama's speech on economic inequality this afternoon. I was almost teary eyed at the end out of pure gratitude to have a President I enjoy hearing speak. The nearly hour speech flew by and I couldn't help but recall how awful it used to be to listen to George W Bush. I could barely stand five minutes of direct aural contact before I fled screaming from the room.

But I digress. Obama gave a terrific speech. It was more than just a policy speech, or a campaign speech as it will surely be categorized by the punditry. It was a template for the rescue of the middle class, with bright outlines for the path forward. You can read the full transcript but here's a few of the key points:
We simply cannot return to this brand of your-on-your-own economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and its future. It doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citizens. ...

In today’s innovation economy, we also need a world-class commitment to science, research, and the next generation of high-tech manufacturing. ... This country shouldn’t be known for bad debt and phony profits. We should be known for creating and selling products all over the world that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America. ...

But in the long term, we have to rethink our tax system more fundamentally. We have to ask ourselves: Do we want to make the investments we need in things like education, and research, and high-tech manufacturing? Or do we want to keep in place the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in our country? Because we can’t afford to do both. That’s not politics. That’s just math.

So far, most of the Republicans in Washington have refused, under any circumstances, to ask the wealthiest Americans to go the same tax rates they were paying when Bill Clinton was president.

This isn’t about class warfare. This is about the nation’s welfare. It’s about making choices that benefit not just the people who’ve done fantastically well over the last few decades, but that benefits the middle class, and those fighting to get to the middle class, and the economy as a whole.
He went on to speak about consumer protection and regulatory reform and the GOP's mission to destroy what progress has been made on that front. So this was heartening:
"I will veto any effort to delay, defund, or dismantle the new rules we put in place."
And as is his custom, he didn't frame the argument as a partisan fight, or even a fight between the 1% and the 99%. As always, he appealed to our better angels, to a spirit of national camaraderie that once imbued our society.
But what hasn’t changed - what can never change - are the values that got us this far. We still have a stake in each other’s success. We still believe that this should be a place where you can make it if you try. And we still believe, in the words of the man who called for a New Nationalism all those years ago, “The fundamental rule in our national life - the rule which underlies all others - is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.”
Maybe that's just dreamy idealism, impossible to achieve within the cynicism that pervades our discourse nowadays. But I love him for trying to reignite that spirit in us.

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