(Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing)
In the fifth year of the Obama presidency, America's middle class continues to suffer while the rich are gaining, President Barack Obama noted in a much ballyhooed speech last week before his vacation at Martha's Vineyard, one of the hottest destinations for America's elite. Republicans and conservatives complain the middle class is suffering because of Obama policies. Obama counters that if Republicans would just agree to implement more of his policies they could end the suffering.
"Even though our businesses are creating new jobs and have broken record profits, nearly all the income gains of the past 10 years have continued to flow to the top 1 percent," Obama pointed out in a July 24 speech at Knox College, Galesburg, Ill. "The average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40 percent since 2009. The average American earns less than he or she did in 1999. ... This growing inequality not just of result, inequality of opportunity – this growing inequality is not just morally wrong, it's bad economics.
"Because when middle-class families have less to spend, guess what, businesses have fewer consumers. When wealth concentrates at the very top, it can inflate unstable bubbles that threaten the economy. When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther and farther apart, it undermines the very essence of America – that idea that if you work hard you can make it here."
Obama then complained that the government he presides over has made the problem worse: "Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, in particular, Washington hasn't just ignored this problem; too often, Washington has made things worse."
The speech left some conservatives to wonder how Obama can complain about a plight of the middle class that he, in their estimation, caused.
"I find it astonishing that he goes around making speeches in which he deplores the state of the economy, the growing income inequality, chronic unemployment, stagnant middle-class income. It's as if he's been a bystander, as if he's been out of the country the last five years," mocked conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer Monday on Fox News' "Special Report." "It's his economy. He's the president. He's talking as if this is the Bush economy or, I don't know, the Eisenhower economy, and he just arrived in a boat and just discovered how bad the economy is.
"This is the result of the policies he instituted. He gave us the biggest stimulus in the history of the Milky Way and he said it would jump start the economy. The result has been the worst recovery since World War II, and that is the root of all the problems he's talking about – the income inequality. The median income of the middle class of Americans has declined by five percent in his one term. So, who's responsible for that? They're his policies. ... And the policies he proposes are exactly the ones he implemented in his first term."
Obama, on the other hand, argues that the poor economy is the fault of the Republican Party, which has controlled the House of Representatives since the second half of Obama's first term. The problems of the middle class could be solved, Obama says, if Republicans in Congress would just go along with his plan for more government spending and stop investigating the "phony scandals" of his administration.
"And if you ask some of these folks, some of these folks mostly in the House, about their economic agenda how it is that they'll strengthen the middle class, they'll shift the topic to 'out-of-control government spending' – despite the fact that we've cut the deficit by nearly half as a share of the economy since I took office," he argued. "Or they'll talk about government assistance for the poor, despite the fact that they've already cut early education for vulnerable kids. They've already cut insurance for people who've lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
"Or they'll bring up Obamacare – this is tried and true – despite the fact that our businesses have created nearly twice as many jobs in this recovery as businesses had at the same point in the last recovery when there was no Obamacare. ... But with this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop."