Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Occupy The SOTU

It is hard to imagine that the State of the Union would have included the populist rhetoric and the series of policy proposals aimed at redressing "economic unfairness" if the Occupy movement had not given voice to the concerns and demands of the 99%. 

And so, we get:
(1)  The "Buffet Rule," which calls for a minimum 30 percent income tax rate for millionaires;
(2) A Financial Crimes Unit to investigate abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that will "hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans;
(3)  A mortgage refinancing plan, paid for by a new fee on the largest banks in the country which "gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates; and
(4)  A defense of public investment in the manufacturing sector of the economy and infrastructure.

And we get an unapologetic push back against the Republican's time-honored accusation that Obama is engaging in "class warfare," as well as their new one, that he is succumbing to the politics of "envy."
Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires.  In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions.  On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up.  You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages.  You’re the ones who need relief.  
Now, you can call this class warfare all you want.  But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes?  Most Americans would call that common sense.
We don’t begrudge financial success in this country.  We admire it.  When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich.  It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet.  That’s not right.  Americans know it’s not right.
This is a far cry from last year's address, which focused far more on such misguided themes as bipartisanship, national unity, deficits and belt-tightening.  (Although there were too many times tonight when he groused about the disconnect between "Washington" and the American people, and about obstructionist tactics and filibustering from "both sides of the aisle," when I wished he would have said "Republicans" instead.)

We have now have a sense of the narrative Obama will use to frame his re-election campaign and, hopefully, his second term.  As Greg Sargent summarized, "Obama not only argued that inequality and the precarious state of the middle class are the 'central challenge of our time,' but that this state of affairs flowed from a set of specific policy choices and priorities that Republicans would restore if they get back into power.

This is all good, but not quite good enough.  As Robert Borosage points out, the President is assuming we are on the road to economic recovery without the need for urgent action on job creation -- even on his own jobs plan.  And he can't quite let go of his deficit fetish, which has led to his "politically toxic willingness to trade Social Security and Medicare cuts (“reform) for broader deficit reduction."

Isaiah J. Poole sums it up well. "The America we want to build holds true to the promise that Obama mentioned in his speech: that each person has an opportunity to prosper, and each person who prospers has a responsibility to the society from which that prosperity was earned."  But to get there, Borosage asserts, "the movement that began in Madison, Wisconsin and spread from Wall Street across the country will need to continue to build"

So, as Poole, concludes:
At least on this defining issue of our time, conservatives have it catastrophically wrong, and the president is pointed in the right direction. The challenge for the progressive movement is to add the bold demands and sharp contrasts needed to fill out the vision of the America we must move toward.

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