Friday, June 3, 2016

Obama Lets Republicans Have It

Obama fires away in Elkhart, Indiana yesterday:
Let me be as straight as I can be about the choice of economic policies that you are going to face. And I'm going to start with the story that...most Republican candidates up and down the ticket are telling....America’s working class, America's middle class — families like yours — have been victimized by a big, bloated federal government run by a bunch of left-wing elitists like me. And the government is taking your hard-earned tax dollars and it's giving them to freeloaders and welfare cheats. And we're strangling business with endless regulations. And this federal government is letting immigrants and foreigners steal whatever jobs Obamacare hasn’t killed yet. (Laughter.)

....I haven’t turned on Fox News or listened to conservative talk radio yet today, but I’ve turned them on enough over these past seven and a half years to know I’m not exaggerating in terms of their story....But it’s not supported by the facts. But they say it anyway. Now, why is that? It’s because it has worked to get them votes, at least at the congressional level.

Because — and here, look, I’m just being blunt with you — by telling hardworking, middle-class families that the reason they’re getting squeezed is because of some moochers at the bottom of the income ladder, because of minorities, or because of immigrants, or because of public employees, or because of feminists — (laughter) — because of poor folks who aren’t willing to work, they’ve been able to promote policies that protect powerful special interests and those who are at the very top of the economic pyramid. That’s just the truth. (Applause.)

I hope you don’t mind me being blunt about this, but I’ve been listening to this stuff for a while now. And I’m concerned when I watch the direction of our politics. I mean, we have been hearing this story for decades. Tales about welfare queens, talking about takers, talking about the “47 percent.” It’s the story that is broadcast every day on some cable news stations, on right-wing radio, it’s pumped into cars, and bars, and VFW halls all across America, and right here in Elkhart.
The statement that traditionally defines populism is "they're screwing us." The difference between right wing and left wing populism is who "they" are. Right-wing populism says "they" are poor people, immigrants, minorities, and the government. Left wing populism says "they" are the rich, the banks, and big business. (Foreign trade and lawyers slide around, depending.) Of late Republicans have had huge success running on the platform of right-wing populism, blaming everything on shiftless losers and big government. Obama is arguing – powerfully, I think – that they are wrong. He has not gone very far into left-wing populism, because his argument is that the economy is actually pretty good. He talks about the one percent, but mainly to say that his tax increases haven't hurt them. He doesn't blame them for the troubles ordinary workers face.

Which I also think is right. Making the economy work for everyone is just a hard problem. Reagan, Thatcher and their ilk thought they had an answer, to cut taxes and regulations and let business take care of itself. What we have learned over the past 35 years is that this leads to ever greater inequality, and ever greater concentration of wealth in the hands of billionaires. So while our economy has been very dynamic over that period, the numbers for ordinary people have been blah. That means we need a different plan. Whether the moderate reforms of Obama and Hillary will work, or if perhaps we need to move much farther toward Social Democracy, I have no idea, and I am suspicious of anybody who claims certainty.


G. Verloren said...

It always astounds me that there are people who believe the argument that, "The poorest, most disadvantaged, most vulnerable, most desperate segments of the population with the least power are secretly exploiting you!"

It's like discovering your wallet is missing and turning around to see a toddler and a fully grown man leafing through a handful of cash, and the man points at the toddler and says, "He robbed you!". Whatever the reality of the situation (maybe you actually just left your wallet on the kitchen counter and weren't robbed at all), it's -really weird- that someone in such a situation would be inclined to seriously believe the toddler was the guilty party.

szopen said...

@G. Verloren
Most likely there are not people who believe that argument. There are however people who believe that government is exploiting you on the fake pretext of helping poor people.