There is a feeling among the masses generally that something is radically wrong. They are despairing of political action. They say the only thing you do in Washington is to take money from the pockets of the poor and put it into the pockets of the rich. They say that this Government is a conspiracy against the common people to enrich the already rich. I hear such remarks every day.
Oscar Ameringer, 1932
“Inequality” is the most basic issue of them all, the very reason for liberalism’s existence. It is about who we are and how we live. Virtually every other liberal cause pales by comparison. This is the World War II of political subjects, and if we are going to win it must be a people’s war, not a Combat of the Thirty between the plumèd knights of the Beltway.Thomas Frank, writing for Salon, is skeptical that no matter how well-intended and accurate the arguments of pols like Robert Reich and Nobel-adorned economists like Paul Krugman, no matter how plainly and persuasively they lay out the case, the issue of ever-widening class division in this society will only be met and resolved by a popular, grassroots movement, not by the paladins of Washington or their cohorts and critics within the Beltway. The reason is that the issue goes to the heart of Americans' existence, our very perception of ourselves as a people. The reordering of our society that we see happening all around us is simply not a subject that can be dissected by a series of articles in the New York Times, nor solved by lectures in a Berkeley classroom. This is not an academic subject at all. To view it as such anesthetizes us from the reality:
“Inequality” is not some minor technical glitch for the experts to solve; this is the Big One. This is the very substance of American populism; this is what has brought together movements of average people throughout our history....Frank also doesn't believe "Inequality" is a word that does the problem justice, and in fact lends itself to the types of wonky, chart-driven discussions we are all familiar with. It also opens the door to endless political "debate" about something which should be quite visceral:
It is a pleasant-sounding euphemism for the Appalachification of our world.Frank notes that unlike their forebears, Democrats today run from the word "class." But he searches in vain for another way to characterize the totality of what has happened to the country in the last three decades:
[I]n the ever-rising cost of healthcare and college, in the deindustrialization of the Midwest and the ballooning of Wall Street, in the power of lobbying, in the dot-com bubble, in the housing bubble, in the commodities bubble. It was made possible by the signal political events of our time: the collapse of the New Deal coalition; the decline of labor; the infernal populism of the New Right; the fall of antitrust and the triumph of deregulation; the rise of Ronald Reagan, and after him Newt Gingrich, and after him George W. Bush, and after him the Tea Party, all of them bringing their pet tax cuts with them to Washington.All the terminology and analysis in the world, he says, isn't going to solve a problem that ultimately comes down to a vast theft of wealth deliberately conceived and executed by the wealthy. No charts, no "roundtable discussions," no debates, no think-tanks and no Blue-ribbon Presidential task forces are going to reverse this course. This course will only be confronted and reversed by ordinary people, fed up, conscious of what has been done to them, talking and organizing amongst themselves and demanding--or taking--action. The movement must come from the bottom up, not from the top down:
[I]n its basic, brutal thrust — something dead simple: Inequality happened because our leaders set out to make it happen...[.]
* * *
The rich got so goddamn rich, in other words, because the signature policies of the Great Right Turn were designed to make them rich. And, as the world knows, these policies weren’t limited to Republicans; Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama—plus, of course, their resident economists and cabinet members—all more or less endorsed the basic tenets of the free-market faith. They are all implicated.
(Italics in the original).
While Occupy Wall Street (already a distant memory) famously "changed the conversation," it is more than the conversation that needs changing. And it's not going to be changed by aging kulaks like myself, for example. When the generation that finally and fully comprehends the magnitude of the deception that has been foisted on them--the narrowing of their futures resultant from massive student loan debt, inadequate employment options and an indifferent, exploitative corporate culture more concerned about protecting its own bottom line than providing real opportunity--that is when the "changes" will be far more than just "to the conversation."
And when that happens, a lot of people aren't going to like it.