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

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 70 neighbors from the area, according to the White House. Here’s an imagined version of the 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, 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 $36 billion they never had any right to expect. Millionaire families would get $31 billion next year. That’s money I’d rather use saving the jobs of teachers and fire fighters — people who need the jobs and would spend that money rarther than just putting it away.

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 unabalance in which the top 1 percent now gets amost a quarter of all national income. We haven’t seen income and wealth this concentrated since the late 1920s, 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 help families who can’t pay college tuition for their kids, I’d like to invest in our crumbling infrastructure, I’d like to reform the tax system so billionaires don’t pay at the capital gains rate of 15 percdent. 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: You may have a point, but I’m afraid it’s too late. Congress is going home Friday. All we have left is a lame duck session, and then the midterm elections. 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, it will be more important than ever for you to show which side you’re on and which side they’re on. Otherwise this aftershock of a recession may go on for years, demagogues will prey on the public’s anger and anxiety to foment anger and resentment, you’ll lose in 2012, and we’ll have an even more hateful politics.

OBAMA (stuttering, blinking, momentarily unsteady): You … You’re …  right! You’re absolutely right! I hadn’t understood until this very moment! Thank you! Thank you!

NEIGHBOR: Any while you’re at it, read Robert Reich’s latest book, AFTERSHOCK. It will explain it all.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. 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.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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