If a speech Thursday morning by one of his top economists is any indication, President Barack Obama is going all in with the 2012 re-election message of stemming the rise in income inequality and reforming a system that’s increasingly perceived to be rigged in favor of the rich.
White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger rattled off a flurry of statistics illustrating the rise of inequality and its connection to the shrinking middle class. He blamed it on economic policies tilted to favor top earners — including income tax reforms (presumably during the Bush era) and the “drastic cut in the estate tax.”
He also argued that implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are eager to repeal, will help reduce the disparities.
It’s a message that bore an uncanny resemblance to the “Teddy Roosevelt” speech President Obama delivered in early December, which was interpreted by many as laying out the grounds for his re-election campaign.
“I think it is clear that we can’t go back to the type of policies that exacerbated the rise in inequality and threatened economic mobility in the first place if we want an economy that builds the middle class,” Krueger told a packed room at the Center for American Progress.
The solidifying message comes amid persistent high unemployment and a renewed focus on inequality in 2011 partly due to the Occupy movements — as well as an increasing air of inevitability that the Republican presidential nominee will be Mitt Romney. Democrats are working hard to paint him an out-of-touch one-percenter who would exacerbate the problem.
Central to the message is that inequalities in the system are “jeopardizing our tradition of equality of opportunity,” as Krueger put it.
“If we had a high degree of income mobility we would be less concerned about the degree of inequality in any given year. But we do not,” he argued. “Moreover, as inequality has increased, evidence suggests that year-to-year or generation-to-generation economic mobility has decreased.”
Romney has taken to decrying this message as the “politics of envy” and “class warfare” — an attack on success itself.
Krueger’s speech Thursday makes clear that that’s a fight the White House is happy to have.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.