Posted by: Ray Brescia | August 8, 2013

President Obama and the Inequality Agenda: What’s Missing

Several weeks ago, President Obama gave an address at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, in which he committed to dedicating the remainder of his presidency to combating income inequality.  He noted that the social compact had broken down in the United States over the last fifty years:

In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity.  Whether you owned a company, or swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain — a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and decent benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and, most of all, a chance to hand down a better life for your kids.

He noted that inequality is “bad economics” because it means the middle class has less purchasing power to drive economic growth and the concentration of wealth in the upper echelons of the economy creates asset bubbles.  He stressed that “reversing these trends” will be his “highest priority.”  As part of an agenda to combat economic inequality, he emphasized the need to strengthen the manufacturing base, increase educational opportunities, broaden home ownership among the middle class, and ensure a secure retirement.

Finally, President Obama promised that “the only thing”  he cared about was “to use every minute of the remaining 1,276 days” of his presidency “to make this country work for working Americans again.”

Missing from his speech, however, was the political path to adopt this Inequality Agenda (or, perhaps, it is an “Equality Agenda”).  And one of the main obstacles to such a path is the increasing influence of money in politics.

Soon after his re-election, I penned a piece for the Huffington Post in which I encouraged President Obama to dedicate his second term to combating economic inequality:

In the Obama Administration’s next term, combating inequality should be front and center; indeed, addressing inequality could be the unifying them of the president’s remaining years in office.

In that piece, I noted the need to address the political inequality that comes with economic inequality, especially in a legal environment which permits undue influence of the haves over the political system.  Thus, central to any effort to address economic inequality will be strategies to address the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United, which has only strengthened the power of money in politics.  When you combine the influence of money in politics with increased economic inequality, you get a recipe for obstruction of any effort to address that inequality.

Thus, any Inequality Agenda will have to come up with strategies for rooting out the influence of money in politics.  In fact, it’s likely Job One if any effort to combat economic inequality has any chance.




  1. […] the second time now, President Obama has stated that he intends to make tackling economic inequality the focus of his […]

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