Thursday, November 11, 2010

Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

You are a brilliant and disciplined man, and I'm glad you are president. However, I'm concerned about how you see your role in the current economic fight between a wealthy few and the rest of the nation.

Your insistence on bipartisanship and compromise that is not reciprocated hark back to the passive protests of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. You seem to want to be a role model of peace and persistence. They were great men, but you are not called upon to play that role.

Dignity and passive resistance was an effective tool for civil rights in the 1960s because there were powerful people in the government (Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ, the Supreme Court) willing to stand up for the oppressed. As President, you need to step up and be the champion that the middle class has been waiting for.

You have already moved some wealth through the Stimulus and extensions of unemployment, but the wealth redistribution was positioned as other things. Health care was also helpful, but it did not change the fundamental problem. Wealth distribution is an ideological and moral issue--in this it is like Civil Rights--and in our current state of inequality, redistribution is a worthy end in itself. You need to change your language to reflect this.

Studies show that average people think our wealth distribution is closer to Sweden's than what it really is. As Champion, you must bust that myth and decry the economic inequality that exists here today (and do it frequently). You must take advantage of the easy opportunities to put things right and build momentum.

1. Let the tax cuts for the rich expire. The public supports this, and even favors letting all Bush tax cuts expire.

2. Add a greed tax to the large bonuses given to bank employees and the incomes of hedge fund managers. Hedge fund managers have wangled a capped tax that has to go.

3. Don't be afraid to shame Congressmen. Who in Congress would stand up for banker perks if they knew they would be publicly branded for it? I know the media is not your friend, and you have found clever ways to deal with this, but some of them are only after a juicy story. If you can give it to them, they'll switch sides easily enough.

There is one fundamental difference between Civil Rights and the current economic fight. Granting the same human rights to everyone lifts everyone. In contrast, there is only so much money to go around. Giving it to some means taking it from others. More wealth equality does lift the whole economy, but greedy people will never see it that way.

But not everyone is greedy. Warren Buffett has already spoken out against the unfairness of his own low tax rate. There are more millionaires who would be willing to say the same. Use them to spread the word.

It is not enough to stand against something. You need to stand for something the way you stood for health care. You have the power to change how we talk about wealth distribution in this country and to start to undo 30 years of propaganda by conservatives.

Start by refusing to extend tax cuts to the wealthy. This is not negotiable. Bail on this, and you signal that the wealthy own you.

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