Hardly a Distraction

Plum Line’s Greg Sargent put it all better than I could:

The speech on inequality that President Obama delivered just now will mostly pass unnoticed by the political world, with Republicans dismissing it as “class warfare” and an effort to distract from Obamacare, and pundits describing it more judiciously as an effort to “pivot” away from the law.

But experts who see inequality as one of the most urgent moral, political and economic long term challenges facing the country will see it as one of the most important speeches of the Obama presidency – more ambitious than his similar 2011 speech in Kansas.

“This is a major speech on a topic that American presidents normally stay away from,” Tim Smeeding, an expert on inequality at the University of Wisconsin, tells me, adding that it compares in some ways to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s addresses. “The fact that a sitting president faced with a crowded agenda had the courage to discuss this overarching problem is historic.”

It’s a symptom of all sorts of political and media dysfunction that a major presidential speech on one of the overriding topics of the day is being treated as a “distraction” or an effort to “change the subject” from obsession over the president’s polling numbers or the likely-to-be-forgotten travails of HealthCare.gov. Inequality and the general decoupling of productivity and GDP growth from income gains and full employment aren’t new, but they have reached crisis levels, and any day’s the right day for the president of the United States to address this tangle of problems. Indeed, you can argue that talking about much of anything else is a bit of a “distraction” from what Obama today called “the defining issue of our time.”

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.