President Obama gave a good, strong, progressive speech in Galesburg, Illinois, on the economy.
He properly stressed the problem of inequality.
He correctly emphasized the need for good jobs and to utilize workers who have been made idle through no fault of their own.
He rightly denounced the "slash and burn partisanship" of the Republicans and warned them not to "manufacture another crisis," as they did with the debt ceiling.
And he boldly asserted that he would do whatever he could on his own to get the economy cooking.
He outlined several cornerstones for a better economy: generating more good jobs, especially in infrastructure; improving education and making it affordable; boosting home ownership; providing a secure retirement; implementing Obamacare.
He called for "a better bargain for the middle class and folks working to join it," and he demanded an increase in the minimum wage, noting that in real terms it "is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office."
He decried the fact that upward mobility has gotten harder and harder in America, calling this "a betrayal of the American idea."
And he said our "winner-take-all economy where a few do better and better, while everybody else just treads water," has actually gotten worse. "Nearly all the income gains of the past ten years have continued to flow to the top 1 percent," he said.
His speech had a few problems.
He denounced the sequester, without mentioning that he himself had proposed it, foolishly.
He stressed the problems of the middle class much more so than those of the poor and the unemployed, though they are the ones who are hurting the most.
He didn't propose a federal jobs program, which is what we really need.
He only obliquely mentioned that in the past 50 years, it has become "harder for unions to fight for the middle class," without telling us why that was. The answer is obvious: Employers flagrantly violated the labor laws of the land, fired union organizers left and right, and threatened mass layoffs if employees signed union cards.
But in one of the best paragraphs of his whole speech, he eloquently discussed why it is so important to move aggressively to shore up our economy. Note, especially, his wise denunciation of "money's power":
"If we just stand by and do nothing in the face of immense change, understand that part of our character will be lost. Our founding precept about wide-open opportunity, each generation doing better than the last, that will be a myth, not reality. The position of the middle class will erode further. Inequality will continue to increase. Money's power will distort our politics even more. Social tensions will rise as various groups fight to hold on to what they have, or start blaming somebody else for why their position isn't improving. And the fundamental optimism that's always propelled us forward will give way to cynicism or nostalgia."
And in his finest riff of all, he invoked community and dwelled on the best of the American character: "We're not a mean people. We're not a selfish people. We're not a people that just looks out for number one."
This call to move beyond selfishness should ring in the halls of Congress and in boardrooms around America.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story Zimmerman Verdict Reveals Racist System of Justice.
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