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Robert Reich: The President’s Backyard Discussion of the Economy (as It Could Be)

September 30, 2010

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By **Robert Reich**

President Obama continues his economic tour today (Wednesday) with stops in Des Moines, Iowa, and Richmond, Va. In Des Moines he hosts a backyard discussion on the challenges currently facing the middle class with approximately seventy neighbors from the area, according to the White House. Here’s an imagined version of that discussion:

OBAMA: Thanks so much for joining me. I know many of you are hurting and angry about the economy, and I don’t blame you. It’s the worst economy since the Great Depression. When consumers can’t buy and businesses won’t expand for lack of customers, the government has to be the purchaser and employer of last resort. We learned that in the Great Depression, but Republicans obviously didn’t—and they’ve blocked every jobs program I’ve offered.

NEIGHBOR: Why don’t you have a showdown with them? Let them filibuster a jobs bill and show which side you’re on and which side they’re on?

OBAMA: That’s just Washington at its worst. More deadlock. I can’t even get Republicans to agree to extend the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. They’re threatening to block it unless I agree to extend the tax cut for the top 2 percent. Can you believe it? The top 2 percent got the lion’s share of the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and if we extended it just one more year for them they’d get a windfall of thirty-six billion dollars they never had any right to expect. Millionaire families would get thirty-one billion dolllars next year. That’s money I’d rather use saving the jobs of teachers and fire fighters—people who protect our communities and who need the jobs and would spend the money rather than just putting it away.

If [Republicans] do make gains in the midterm, it will be more important than ever for you to show which side you’re on…Then at least you have a fighting chance of mobilizing Americans.

NEIGHBOR: Why don’t you have a showdown with them? Let them try to block the middle-class tax cut for 98 percent because they want to give it to the top 2 percent, and show which side you’re on and they’re on?

OBAMA: That’s would be just more of the same old Washington, and I promised to bring change to Washington. Let me tell you, the underlying reason for the economic mess we’re in has been building for years. It’s a fundamental imbalance in which the top 1 percent now gets almost a quarter of all national income. We haven’t seen income and wealth this concentrated since the late nineteen twenties, and we all know what happened then—the Great Depression. We’ll never really get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession until we fix this basic problem. Health care reform was a small step forward, but the Republicans won’t let me do anything else. I’d like to help struggling homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages, I’d like to invest in our crumbling infrastructure, I’d like to reform the tax system so multimillionaires can’t pretend their earnings are capital gains and pay at the rate of 15 percent. I’d like to exempt the first twenty thousand dollars of income from the payroll tax and make it up by applying payroll taxes to incomes over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. I’d like to make public higher education free, and pay for it with a small transfer tax on all financial transactions. I’d like to do much more—a new new deal for Americans. But Republicans are blocking me at every point.

NEIGHBOR: Why don’t you have a showdown with them? Make restoring the broad middle and working class of American into a national campaign. Let them try to block these reforms and show which side you’re on and which side they’re on?

OBAMA: That’s just Washington gridlock. I promised change. In any event, I’m afraid it’s too late. Congress is going home soon. All we have left is the midterm elections and then a lame duck session. Republicans may take over the House and take more seats in the Senate in November, and then I won’t be able to do much of anything.

NEIGHBOR: If they do make gains in the midterm, it will be more important than ever for you to show which side you’re on and which side they’re on. Then at least you have a fighting chance of mobilizing Americans behind you. Otherwise this aftershock of a recession will go on for years, demagogues will prey on the public’s anxiety to foment even more anger and resentment, you’ll lose in 2012, and we’ll have an even more hateful politics.

OBAMA (blinking, momentarily unsteady, stuttering): You…You’re…right! You’re…absolutely right! I hadn’t understood until this very moment! Thank you! Thank you! (Everyone cheers.) We’re gonna fight! We’re going to really take them on! That’s the only way to make real change! I finally get it! (More cheers.)

NEIGHBOR: Any while you’re at it, read Robert Reich’s latest book, Aftershock. It explains it all. Here’s a copy.

Copyright 2010 Robert Reich

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This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.

Robert Reich.JPGRobert B. Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written eleven books (including his most recent, Supercapitalism, which is now out in paperback). Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s Marketplace are heard by nearly five million people.

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