President Barack Obama's September 8 speech outlining his new jobs program — and the tax policies needed to finance it — was a sign of hope.
It was only a first step, but to a nation fearful that we had been sentenced to an indeterminate stretch of penury amidst a relentless downward spiral of economic decline, it was something.
Obama's vigorous promise, four days later, to veto any Republican attempt to thwart his initiative by curbing or cutting vital programs for the needy and the elderly, such as Medicare or Medicaid, reinforced the president's determination to get something done or — in the process — to demonstrate to America who the villains and obstructionists truly are.
The odds of immediate success are long. But what is significant is that Obama has changed the nature of the debate. No longer content to compromise or seek mythical consensus with Republicans more interested in destroying him than bettering the nation, the president at long last has taken the lead.
In one corner sits Obama and the Democrats. Their constituency is clear: workers, the unemployed, the poor, the elderly, the young. Arrayed in the opposing corner are the Republicans and their paymasters: the forces of monopoly, plutocracy, and greed.
Here are the points to keep in mind as the battle over jobs and taxes progresses:
1_ Republicans say Obama's program is class warfare. This is a big lie. As with other Republican big lies — the Bush tax cuts would bring prosperity, Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — the idea is that, if it's repeated often enough and with sufficient zeal, the public will accept it. A lie, however, is a lie is a lie.
2_ The facts are these: over the past 50 years, the tax rate for the nation's wealthiest has plummeted from 91 percent to 35 percent. It used to be that every tax dollar raised on private income was mirrored by $1.50 on corporate profits. Today, every federal tax dollar raised from citizens is matched by 25 cents from business.
3_ It is Republicans and conservatives who have waged class war. And they have done so with startling efficiency, effectiveness, and — truth be told — ease. Over the last 30 years, more than 100 percent of income gains have flowed to the top 10 percent of the economic pyramid. Of course, this means that, among the remaining 90 percent of the working population, most lost ground.
4_ Adding insult to this injury of decline, the top one percent received two-thirds of all gains.
5_ The bottom line is clear. The rich got richer. The middle class was diminished. And the poor were screwed.
6_ All this was true even before the crash of September 18, 2008, which was triggered by the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers. Lehman failed because Democrats and Republicans alike ignored the lessons learned during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Those lessons were simple. One, Wall Street needs regulation. Two, do not let the greedy get too porcine.
7_ If yesterday's calamity was broadly bipartisan, today's catastrophe is the work of conservatives. Obama may have been guilty of premature compromise in drafting his first recovery plan, but conservative resistance and intransigence made anything more politically implausible. The result today is an official unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, which would be worse if it were not for Obama.