Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why did Barack Obama want to be president?

President Obama gave an important speech this week on income inequality and the lack of social mobility in the U.S. As so often happens when he gives these kinds of speeches, many in the pundit class acted as if he has never talked about these kinds of things before. I'd simply point them to a couple of examples when he said basically the same thing - and they reacted the same way. One example was his speech on fiscal policy in April 2011. For those with memories that can go back two years, this is the one that was attended by Rep. Paul Ryan where he ripped the Republican budget proposal to shreds.
In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They [Republicans] want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America...There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don't think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That's not a vision of the America I know.

The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share.
Or how about when the President travelled to Osawatomie, Kansas in December 2011 to give a signature speech on income inequality.
Today, we’re still home to the world’s most productive workers. We’re still home to the world’s most innovative companies. But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments -- wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t -- and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up....

But, Osawatomie, this is not just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what’s 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, secure their retirement.
And then there was the speech the President made at an Associated Press Luncheon in April 2012.
In the face of all these challenges, we're going to have to answer a central question as a nation: What, if anything, can we do to restore a sense of security for people who are willing to work hard and act responsibly in this country? Can we succeed as a country where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well, while a growing number struggle to get by? Or are we better off when everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules?

This is not just another run-of-the-mill political debate. I’ve said it’s the defining issue of our time, and I believe it. It’s why I ran in 2008. It’s what my presidency has been about. It’s why I’m running again. I believe this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and I can’t remember a time when the choice between competing visions of our future has been so unambiguously clear.
I'll stop there...perhaps you get the point. Its clear that the issue of income inequality has been a central focus for President Obama from day one. This week he echoed how he has talked about it in the past.
But we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles -- to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were. They may not follow the constant back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend that I want to spend some time talking about today. And that is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain -- that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.

I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American. It’s why I ran for President. It was at the center of last year’s campaign. It drives everything I do in this office.
What struck me is that a refrain the President has repeated several times is that income inequality is "the defining issue of our time" and is the reason he ran for President. Its important to note that he made that decision before the Great Recession of 2008. And so its clear that he identified it as a problem long before Wall Street became the object of derision we are so familiar with today (and long before the occupiers got us talking about the 99%).

All of that inspired me to go back to a speech Barack Obama made in February 2007 that hasn't been the subject of much commentary...the one where he announced that he was running for president. If you want to know why he made that decision, its a good place to start.


  1. Thank you Smartypants. IT's so aggravating to see pundits and journalists, bloggers etc ON THE LEFT who falsely report this speech as a new focus for POTUS. Greg Sargent and Krugman, uggghh. Why are they so ignorant? And it's one thing to have missed these speeches but perhaps BEFORE YOU WRITE ABOUT IT, you do some googling?

  2. Smartypants,

    Blogging aside, have you considered publishing or expanding your posts into essays for book publication? Or minimally to appear as op eds or as long thought pieces? Your writing sand analyses are consistently as good or better than the best political writers in the country. As a long-time working screenwriter and former presidential speechwriter, I know serious writing talent when I see it.

    1. First of all...thank you!

      There are times I've wondered about all that - especially now that I'm unemployed. But I don't have the vaguest idea about where to start. Any pointers?

    2. First of're welcome.

      I just sent you an email regarding this.

  3. It's great to see our great President in a good light. He is exactly who he said he was, and has been doing exactly what he said he'd do. Best POTUS ever--- perhaps, at least, presidential historians are seeing that.


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