Friday, December 9, 2011

"Welcome Back to The Fight."

"This time I know our side will win."
Fans of "Casablanca" will recognize Victor Laszlo's parting salute to Rick, once he's gotten off the fence, gotten over Ilsa, and decided once again to join the Resistance.
It's the same way I felt watching Barack Obama's much-hyped Teddy Roosevelt-wanna-be speech in Kansas, the one where he came out as champion of the beleaguered middle class.
"Well, Mr. President," I wanted to say, "it's about time! Glad you stopped tending bar with all those rich guys in tuxes and worrying about the beautiful women with their jewels and took a look at the Gini Index. You remember the Gini Index? The one that says that the United States is the most unequal advanced industrial economy in the world! Yeah, that one. So, welcome back to the fight, Mr. President. I sure hope our side will win."
But there were a couple of problems with the President's speech that have kept troubling me.
First was the presentation. This was no Teddy Roosevelt stem-winder.
Something has happened to President Obama. He's lost his . . . groove. His . . . mojo. This speech should have been a rousing call for action. Instead, he seemed decidedly lukewarm about his own subject. Not good.
Second was the content. The President (finally) nailed it when he pointed out the crisis facing America's middle class. And he was right: this country needs a strong middle class if we want a strong nation. Strong economically, socially, politically, you name it. The middle class is the glue that holds this nation together. And right now, the glue is starting to go bad.
No argument there.
But then listen to the solutions the President has to offer, and other than his argument over the tax code--where he is basically correct, we could go back to tax rates we had in the past without killing any jobs or destroying the corporate work ethic--his solutions are very thin gruel.
Take a look at the February 2010 Annual Report of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class.
You remember that Task Force, don't you? The one chaired by Vice-President Joe Biden? You remember Vice-President Joe Biden, don't you?
Never mind.
That report basically regurgitates all the same stuff the President tried to touch on in his speech. Preserve America's manufacturing jobs. Oops, too late.
Invest in infrastructure. Oops, all that money that was supposed to go toward jump-starting the economy after the big crash of 2008--it's still unspent.
Fix public education. Oops, no progress on that one either.
It's more than disappointing.
It's problematic.
Either the President doesn't actually know what government can or should do to come to the aid of the middle class; or he knows and can't deliver; or the whole theory of the case is wrong.
What if the federal government isn't the source of support for the middle class (other than tax policy and large budget outlays for health care and welfare)?
What if it has to come at the local level? What if we should be listening to mayors and governors, to social entrepreneurs and grass-roots organizers--what if they know what the middle class needs, because they're a lot closer to the middle class and its struggles than any policymaker in Washington, DC?
Welcome back to the fight, Mr. President!
Now, remember what you used to do as a community organizer in Chicago?
Let's try that! This time, we just might win!

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb