Our View: Taking real action to combat inequality
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday spoke and fielded questions at a forum at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. He gave a detailed and spirited account of his political career, which early on included several defeats in Vermont races, and then detailed his vision for the future of our country.
During a recent visit to the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Sanders and a friend read the Gettysburg Address, in which President Abraham Lincoln spoke of his hope of a "new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Today, however, Sanders said, this vision of American is perishing and "we are moving away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society — where were are experiencing a government of the billionaires, by the billionaires and for the billionaires."
He added, "Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality."
Income and wealth inequality have been increasingly prominent in public debate because the statistical and everyday evidence has become to apparent to ignore.
Inequality's ugly twin, immobility, has been growing, too.
President Obama spoke of the problem in this State of the Union message on Jan. 20. "Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?"
If we don't build such an economy, are we going to provide an adequate safety net to those who have no realistic chance to get ahead, including those who cannot even get a job?
Ironically, some prominent Republicans have stared trying to steal the best issue of their opponents. While once citing Obamacare as a giant job-killer, Republicans no longer have such arguments. They have begun to admit that rich "job creators" are not being crushed by a socialist administration but are in fact getting richer.
Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently went on the TV show "This Week" and said only the wealthy are doing well in the Obama economy.
"The top 1 percent under President Obama, the millionaires and billionaires that he constantly demogogued, earned a higher share of our income than any year since 1928," Cruz told host George Stephanopoulos.
Rep. Paul Ryan said the wealthy are doing well and are "practicing trickle-down economics now," according to an article in The New York Times.
"The Obamanomics that we're practicing now have exacerbated inequality," Ryan said.
In reality, the path to unacceptable wage and wealth inequality has been decades long.
Arguably it began during the administration of Republican icon Ronald Reagan. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1996 and 2006, the after-tax income of the bottom 20 percent of Americans fell by 6 percent, while during the same period the after-tax income of the top 1 percent increased by 74 percent and the top .01 by 96 percent.
Of course, the real test for Republicans is what they'll agree to do about inequality. Both Sen. Sanders' 12-point agenda for American and President Obama's most recent State of the Union offer policies to lessen it.
These range from creating jobs through rebuilding our country's crumbling infrastructure to raising the federal minimum wage to making college affordable for all to guaranteeing paid sick and maternity leave to making childcare more available and more affordable.
Will the Ted Cruzes and Paul Ryans of the world support legislation to enact such concrete measures?
Don't hold your breath.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.