State of the Union
Two months ago, Andrew Jackson noted that Jim Webb, the new Democratic Senator from Virginia, seemed willing to discuss class and inequality with a candour seldom heard in Canadian politics, let alone American politics. Last night, Webb delivered the Democratic response to President Bushâ€™s “State of the Union Address”. The excerpts below feature more frank talk about class and inequality in America, including a reference to that other Andrew Jackson. However, as Charles Campbell noted previously, Webb seems somewhat short on specific proposals to address these issues.
Elsewhere in his speech, Webb scathingly criticized the decision to invade Iraq. This focus was refreshing in contrast to Clinton and Obama, who seemed more interested in blaming the Iraqis and whose main criticism of Bush was that he had not been tough enough with the Maliki government.
Democratic Response to State of the Union Address
When one looks at the health of our economy, it’s almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it’s nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.
Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being sent along with them.
In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. Our white collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace.
In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy — that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.
And under the leadership of the new Democratic Congress, we are on our way to doing so. The House just passed a minimum wage increase, the first in ten years, and the Senate will soon follow. We’ve introduced a broad legislative package designed to regain the trust of the American people. We’ve established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond party lines. We’re working to get the right things done, for the right people and for the right reasons.
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Regarding the economic imbalance in our country, I am reminded of the situation President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days of the 20th century. America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.
Roosevelt spoke strongly against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans that they must set themselves “as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other.” And he did something about it.