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January 13, 2012 10:00 AM To hell with the ‘quiet room’

By Steve Benen

While some would have us limit all discussions of income inequality to “quiet rooms,” I’m relieved to see that President Obama’s economic team feels differently.

What Mitt Romney a few days ago called “the bitter politics of envy,” President Obama’s chief economic adviser instead described Thursday as the basic economics of unequal opportunity.

As long as the rich keep getting richer and the middle class languishes, he said, the economy as a whole will suffer.

Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers and an accomplished labor economist, presented chapter and verse of the administration’s understanding of income inequality, economic opportunity and the fortunes of the middle class in a speech to the Center for American Progress, a research group closely aligned with the administration’s viewpoint.

His theme: “Rising inequality has been bad for the U.S. economy.”

The full test of the speech is online here (pdf) and it’s well worth reading. Krueger isn’t an inspirational orator, but that’s really not the point here — this was the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers making a detailed case for closing the widening chasm between rich and poor.

Indeed, as far as Krueger is concerned, the future of the nation’s economic health depends on it.

Want to understand the differences between priorities of a Democratic and a Republican administration in 2013? This is an issue for the top of the list.

What’s more, the economist highlighted the right remedy to address these obscene wealth disparities: a commitment to “equality of opportunity” through, among other things, health care reform, safeguards to protect consumers against Wall Street recklessness, and the end of “unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy.”

In contrast, in case anyone’s forgotten, every Republican presidential candidate intends to eliminate the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, give Wall Street free rein, and expand unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy.

Regardless, the larger political point is hard to miss: President Obama fully intends to stick to the message he delivered in Osawatomie, when he argued that restoring economic balance and fairness is “the defining issue of our time.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on January 13, 2012 10:06 AM:

    Does anyone expect the Conservative working class rank-and-file to notice?

    They've been Pavlov'd into believe ALL government is bad, and everything private is GOOD!

    It's a little late in the day for the 2-legged Conservative morons, otherwise known as "lunch," to start questioning where the cannibal's meals keep coming from.

    They haven't minded being dined on for decades, so why start now?

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 13, 2012 10:13 AM:

    "Does anyone expect the Conservative working class rank-and-file to notice?"

    Some, yes. Not enough to swing Alabama and Mississippi to vote for Obama, but that's not necessary. In defending states like PA, OH, and then getting just enough working-class votes in places like VA, NC, and FL to win those, i think this issue is a real winner.

    The GOP has got to know that they're going to take a beating on this. TBH, i'm surprised they haven't decided to lie about tax cuts for the wealthy and then surprise us after getting voted in. It's a real sign of how ideology now trumps pragmatism that they'll lie or flip-flop about anything but THAT.

  • walt on January 13, 2012 10:20 AM:

    The pro-plutocracy politics of the GOP can only succeed with race cards, dog whistles, and a propaganda machine designed to keep low-information white voters believing their tax dollars go to groups like ACORN, NAMBLA, and Hamas. In not effectively answering these Big Lies, Democrats have ceded large parts of the political battleground to the right. This time, the battle may be on friendlier terrain, and Democrats may be emboldened to behave like Democrats instead of the DLC eunuchs of the past 20 years.

  • ex-curm on January 13, 2012 10:23 AM:

    If Obama's Justice Department would go after Wall Street and indict folks rather than trying to reach settlements, the arguments against Wall Street would be much stronger (and it would be harder for Romney and Conservatives to suggest "envy" is the problem).

  • stormskies on January 13, 2012 10:24 AM:

    Income inequality ? Hmmm...........maybe someone should examine and explain why used corporate condoms like Brian Williams can 'earn' 15 million a year, and the average teacher of our kids makes about $50,000 a year ? The used condom works about 20 minutes a day reading what is prepared for him to read, and the teacher is working long hours beyond the 8 to 5 routine. Shared sacrifice ? How 'bout if the used condom, who makes about 250,000 per week, 'sacrificed' just one week's worth of pay. That would then equal being able to hire five full time teachers for ONE YEAR.

  • Anonymous on January 13, 2012 2:00 PM:

    Excellent talking points, especially those about ACA, for the next State of the Union address and throughout the campaign season for Democrats at all levels across the country.

    "national ngiesolBLOT" - Craptcha, you and I are clearly thinking along the same lines!

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