Posted by: Dan Beucke on December 7, 2011 at 4:00 PM
Here’s one way to interpret President Obama’s speech yesterday in Osawatomie, Kansas: It’s his attempt to tie together the loose-knit complaints of the 99% — against wealth accumulation by the 1%, job loss for everyone else, debt slavery, a free pass for banks, money corruption in Washington — into a single, unified theory of income inequality. And to convince the person who’s worth a million dollars that the wealth gap threatens them, too.
Obama must do this if he intends to make this the theme of a winning 2012 re-election campaign. It’s one thing for people to march on those issues or occupy a park however briefly. Obama needs to weave them into a coherent narrative that holds up against charges by the other party that you want to seize the property of hard-working Americans and turn it over to their profligate neighbor.
One of the telling lines in the speech (which referenced Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 progessive stemwinder in the same town) was when Obama made the distinction between those who have a million dollars and those who make a million dollars:
Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year. I’m not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I’m saying people who make a million dollars every single year. For the top one hundredth of 1 percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her worker now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about 6 percent.
The difference? A lot of middle-class Americans have a million dollars — or used to — if you count their retirement accounts and home equity. If Obama’s inequality strategy is to work, he has to convince more of those people that he’s in their corner.
(Photos: Mandel Ngan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)