Republicans are enamored with the term American exceptionalism and they have belittled President Obama for not promoting the concept that in this country, all things are possible and that exceptionalism gives America the right to be a dominant force in the world. There was a time when America was exceptional because any citizen, regardless of economic station, could aspire to and achieve the American dream if they worked hard, persevered, and made personal sacrifices. That reality, although gone now, created the great American middle class and was responsible for building the country into the greatest nation on Earth. For the past generation though, conservative ideology has transformed the American dream into an exercise in futility because regardless of hard work, dedication, and perseverance, the prospect of achieving middle class status is nothing more than a pipe dream.
President Obama’s speech in Kansas yesterday was a stinging rebuke of Republicans’ economic philosophy that more wealth at the top produces income and jobs for the peasant population. The President said, “It’s a simple theory — one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. It fits well on a bumper sticker. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work; it’s never worked.” There was an underlying theme in the President’s speech that focused on inequality, fairness, and a sense of right and wrong that many Americans have complained is lacking in this country since Republicans began giving wealth and special privileges to a small percentage of Americans who, through greed and power over the government, perpetuate the conditions that are sending more American families into the depth of poverty while the wealthy prosper and increase their control over the government.
Obama echoed remarks from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech on economic fairness over a hundred years ago. The President also channeled FDR and his Second Bill of Rights when he said, “At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.” President Obama did not directly attack the wealthy and their corporations, but instead made a passionate argument that government policy should support the middle class and families struggling to attain middle class status. As it is now, millions of Americans who work hard, make sacrifices, and fight to survive in an environment tilted to favor the wealthy, the prospect of achieving the American dream is non-existent. In fact, the conditions Republicans have created with their trickle down economic theory are responsible for millions of middle class families losing ground financially and instead of upward mobility, are gradually sinking into poverty.
The President made a prescient point that it is heartbreaking that hard-working Americans increasingly are left with little choice but to take their children to food banks just to ensure they have decent meals. Obama said, “But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work; that’s inexcusable. It’s wrong.” Republicans have assailed the middle and working class with gusto since they took control of the House, several state legislatures, and governor’s mansions in 2011 by limiting union representation, reducing the government workforce, and slashing wages only to send the savings directly to corporations and the wealthy.
President Obama made the point that income inequality is the divisive issue facing America today and commented that “the breathtaking greed of a few” who caused the financial crisis is the reason there is a “raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity, balance and fairness.” For those who have criticized the President for not giving support to the Occupy movement, his speech should clear up where his loyalties are. He said, “This isn’t just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.” There can be little doubt that President Obama is firmly on the side of the 99% or that he is working to eliminate the crippling income inequality that is destroying democracy.
Although the President said the divisive income inequality was not a political debate, he clearly set the tone for next year’s election. Americans who have a memory will remember that Obama’s policies and achievements over the past three years have primarily benefited 99% of Americans whether it is the Affordable Care Act, Financial reforms, or the payroll tax cut Republicans oppose. All of the Republican presidential candidates support the status quo that favors the wealthiest Americans and punishes the poor, elderly, children, middle and working class that make up 99% of the population. They will have a difficult time convincing most Americans they have their best interests in mind regardless the rhetoric of not taxing the so-called job creators.
The American dream of attaining middle class status can only be achieved if government starts working for all Americans and not just the wealthy. President Obama has given Americans a reason to hope that America can once again be exceptional by making middle class attainability available to every hardworking American. The alternative is Republican ideology that mandates a population of peasants who barely survive to enrich the wealthy, and a fallacious hope that as the rich attain more wealth, they will permit the poor to stay alive. Although the President did not validate the Occupy movement directly, he did the next best thing by clearly aligning with their belief that in America, the Republican-mandated income inequality and unfair advantages for the wealthy must be stopped and middle class attainability for all is the only way America will be exceptional again.