Thursday’s speech on the economy was just like all the others – it sounded great, we got excited, then poof! We moved on
This week Barack Obama remembered the middle class.
You know them. The people who will suffer in retirement if our Social Security retirement benefits are given a “tweak” as he phrased his own effort at entitlement reform last year. They are the people whose incomes have continued to fall through his administration. They are the people still waiting for significant financial reform.
So, you know, most of us.
Poll numbers are falling, something that happens to many second-term presidents, also known as “lame-ducks.” Excitement moves elsewhere. Elizabeth Warren, the creator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who no longer heads it up because Obama refused to risk a confirmation fight in the Senate on her behalf, is now in the Senate herself, fighting the banks. Others are wondering whether Hillary will run again.
Hell, if you go by my Twitter feed, more are concerned about the latest doings of Anthony Weiner/Carlos Danger and the naming of the royal baby than Potus.
So it’s time for a speech, a series of speeches in fact. Obama is going to take the world back for the beleaguered middle classes.
There’s only one problem: Obama now living in the White House bubble for more than five years, doesn’t have a sense of how the rest of us live. And it showed in the speech he gave in Illinois yesterday, the one his staff would have us herald as a bold new vision for America.
Obama says he would like to re-establish pathways to the middle class for those lower on the income totem poll: jobs programs, infrastructure upgrades and education. These are good and worthy goals. But, Mr President, with all due respect, it’s only half the problem.
It’s not simply that the ladders of upward mobility are increasingly being folded up and returned to the garage, freezing us all in place. For all too many people, the modern American economy feels like a jinxed game of Chutes and Ladders, where we always land on the chutes and the CEOs – you know, the ones even President Obama admits saw his salary increase 40% over the course of his own administration – get the ladders.
Take the boasting of the 7.2m paid positions created over the course of his administration. Nice going, but it only tells part of the story. Part-time jobs are growing at a faster rate in 2013 than full-time positions. Hourly income continues to fall by a record amount in the first quarter of this year. The workforce participation rate is at post-war lows, and, no, that’s not a reflection of the aging of the American workforce. Many are simply so discouraged, they’ve given up entirely.
In this environment, the idea of expanding self-funded retirement accounts, as Obama says he would like to do, is something of a bad joke. Americans have had Individual Retirement Accounts and 401(k)s for more than thirty years. The people who have them don’t have enough money saved in them and they know it. More than four of out five of us routinely tell pollsters we’d like to see a return to some form of the pension system. Instead, President Obama is offering them more of the same.
Then there is this: “We put in place tough new rules on the banks.” We did? Five years out, and no one has even been charged, much less gone to jail, for causing the economic crisis that all but brought us to the financial brink. Too Big To Fail has become even Too Bigger To Fail. Dodd-Frank is being eviscerated, rule by regulatory rule, with nary a word from the White House. The bankster scams just seem to grow by the day – just this past weekend, The New York Times wrote about an ingenuous scheme by Goldman Sachs to force up the price of aluminum by buying the warehouses and getting around regulations forbidding hoarding by ordering forklift drivers to move it from warehouse to warehouse.
But, hey, it’s a job, right? Probably a full-time one, in fact. Why complain?
Obama can blame Republican obstructionism all he wants. He’s certainly got at least a partial point. But he needs to look in the mirror too. He got elected in 2008 on a platform of “hope and change” and, with the exception of healthcare reform, offered incremental fixes and more of the same.
We’ve been here time and time again. President Obama makes a speech. It sounds great. We get excited. And then, poof. We move on.
Faced with an environment where the likelihood of getting anything past Congress is near nil, where the sequester is harming more and more people with each passing day – perhaps the president should go for broke. Offer a list of grand ideas. Force the public discussion to the left.
Think about it this way: it worked for the Republicans. Why not give it a try?