Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus? The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out. … First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has. … Second, students don’t dare rock the boat. … Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible. … We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation’s income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue to drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy. At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough.
THE POLITICAL EXHIBITIONISM OF THE STATE OF THE UNION
As undignified as it is unedifying and unnecessary, the vulgar State of the Union circus is again at our throats. The document that the Constitutional Convention sent forth from Philadelphia for ratification in 1787 was just 4,543 words long, but this was 17 too many. America would be a sweeter place if the Framers had not included this laconic provision pertaining to the president: “He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union.” “Information”? Not exactly. The Constitution’s mild requirement has become a tiresome exercise in political exhibitionism, the most execrable ceremony in the nation’s civic liturgy, regardless of which party’s president is abusing it. You worship bipartisanship? There is not a dime’s worth of difference between the ways the parties try to milk partisan advantage from this made-for-television political pep rally.
THE PRESIDENT AND THE POST-OBAMA ERA
E.J. DIONNE JR.
President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday is about more than the final three years of his presidency. Its purpose should be to influence the next decade of American political life and begin shaping the post-Obama era. For Obama, now is not the time for defensiveness. His current difficulties owe less to Obamacare’s early problems than to a broader alienation fostered by the Republicans’ ability to block government efforts to ease widespread economic stress. The president should certainly play for some immediate policy victories, notably on immigration reform. But his larger task is the one Ronald Reagan always kept in mind: to encourage a shift in public opinion that is already moving toward his ideas. Obama will be judged, of course, by the state of the nation when he leaves office in January 2017. But his place in history will depend on what is happening in 2027 and beyond.
MIKE HUCKABEE, UNCLE SUGAR AND MISCONCEPTIONS
As Republicans can’t seem to learn, it’s all in how you say things. Even if Huckabee was only describing how he believes Democrats think of women, he may have parted the curtain on his own unconscious processes. Who, really, is worried about women’s libidos? … Does Huckabee really think that Democrats are wedded to the idea that women can’t function without “Uncle Sugar” offering medications to thwart ovulation and fertilization? … Huckabee is usually better than this. His sane, jocular temperament is what won him fans and plaudits. … His RNC comments, by contrast, sounded like someone priming the base at the expense of sound thinking. Rather than end the idea of a Republican war on women, Huckabee has merely provided fresh fodder to Democrats, while reminding women why they don’t want to associate with this crowd. Clue-less. To his credit, Huckabee wrapped up with sage counsel that he might redirect to include his brethren: “Women across America need to stand up and say, enough of that nonsense.” Tell it, preacher.
A NEW DIRECTION IN THE WAR ON POVERTY
PAUL RYAN (R-WI)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
… 47 million Americans still live in poverty today. And the reason is simple: Poverty isn’t just a form of deprivation; it’s a form of isolation. Crime, drugs and broken families are dragging down millions of Americans. On every measure from education levels to marriage rates, poor families are drifting further away from the middle class. And Washington is deepening the divide. Over the past 50 years, the federal government has created different programs to fix different problems, so there’s little or no coordination among them. And because these programs are means-tested—meaning that families become ineligible for them as they earn more—poor families effectively face very high marginal tax rates, in some cases over 80%. So the government actually discourages them from getting ahead. Poverty isn’t a rare disease from which the rest of us are immune. It’s the worst strain of a widespread scourge: economic insecurity. That’s why concern for the poor… goes to the heart of the American experiment. What the poor really need is to be reintegrated into our communities. But Washington is walling them up in a massive quarantine.
BUILDING ON THE SUCCESS OF THE WAR ON POVERTY
WALL STREET JOURNAL
The federal government’s half-century of effort has slashed poverty among seniors from 35% in 1960 to 9% in 2011; it has brought so-called “deep poverty” (those living 50% below the poverty line) down to 5.3%; and it has cut overall poverty by a third, when you factor in tax credits and other payments, according to a recent report by the Council of Economic Advisers. … I welcome a broad conversation about poverty and social mobility, but the balance sheet is indisputable after a half-century of the War on Poverty. … We need to do more, not less. But doing more doesn’t mean wasteful and indiscriminate spending. Doing more means making smart investments in proven programs and innovating around promising new strategies. We have a historic opportunity today to lift millions out of poverty, to limit government spending in the long term and to create middle-class jobs.
50TH ANNIVERSARIES SHAME TODAY’S GOVERNMENT
Better get used to it. We live in an era of 50th anniversaries. … Even so, if these anniversaries only serve as a moment to contrast eras, an important lesson will be lost. They should be seen as evidence of how miserably government is failing today. While government need not be as central to people’s lives as it was then, it has to find a way to recapture some of its lost spirit. Central to this is changing the culture of Washington, particularly Congress. Too many people elected today are convinced that they are 100% right and that their adversaries are 100% wrong. They see compromise as a sign of weakness. They are out to demonstrate their moral superiority to purity enforcement groups. Too many ordinary Americans, for their part, expect all manner of things from government but resent paying for them.