Robert Reich: Mr. President, What You Should Say Tonight – OpEd


President Biden is addressing the country tonight in his State of the Union address. Here’s some free advice about what he should say about the economy — which is the issue most voters care most about.

Instead of telling Americans the economy is great — which many won’t believe — he must tell them the truth: that most of the economic gains haven’t been felt by average working people because the gains have been going to the top.

Biden should denounce the greed and political corruption that have caused this.

He should explain that the biggest change in America over the last four decades — lurking behind the insecurities and resentments of many working people — has nothing to do with “wokeness,” immigration, critical race theory, transgender kids, the “deep state,” or any other Republican boogeymen.

It’s been a huge upward shift in the distribution of income and wealth.

The nation’s economy has seen massive gains, but the income and wealth of the bottom 80 percent of America have barely budged while the income and wealth of the richest Americans have exploded.

This change didn’t happen because of the so-called “invisible hand” of the free market.

It happened because of policy decisions pushed by the monied interests — decisions that deregulated Wall Street, allowed corporations to bash unions and monopolize their industries, opened the American economy to Chinese imports, let pharmaceutical companies charge exorbitant prices, cut taxes on the rich and bailed out the biggest banks while saddling working people with student debt and medical debt.

In Biden’s first term he reversed much of this. He negotiated lower drug prices, funded infrastructure that will create good jobs, forgave some student debt, attacked monopolies, and protected workers’ rights to organize. He even walked a picket line.

But Biden needs to tell Americans that in his second term, he’ll go even further.

Mr. President, tell us:

You’ll stop CEOs from raking in a record-breaking 350 times the pay of average workers. You’ll support legislation linking the rate of taxes a corporation pays to the ratio of its CEO pay to average worker pay.

You’ll enforce the antitrust laws against grocery chains and food processors that have kept food prices high.

You’ll make it illegal for hedge fund and private equity managers to buy up houses to drive up rents when average Americans can barely afford to keep a roof over their heads.

You’ll stop big banks and credit card companies from adding junk fees and charging usurious interest payments approaching 30 percent.

You’ll prevent monopolies like Amazon from hurting small businesses and firing their workers for unionizing.

You’ll raise taxes on the rich and lower them on average working Americans.

You’ll end corporate welfare — the special tax loopholes, bank bailouts, unconditional subsidies, loan guarantees, and no-bid contracts that have lined the pockets of the wealthy.

And you’ll stop big corporations from pouring money into politics to keep the corporate welfare flowing. You’ll get big money out of politics with legislation that prevents federal contractors (20 percent of big companies) from making political contributions.

And you’ll appoint Supreme Court justices who know the difference between money and speech, between corporations and people.

Let Republicans criticize corporate “wokeness.” You’re taking on corporate greed.

Let Republicans obsess about critical race theory and abortion. You’ll protect the freedom of speech of Americans, and their freedom to decide when and whether to have children.

Let Republicans rail against transgender kids. You’re focusing on how obscenely unfair and unequal America has become.

Let Republicans try to divide Americans into warring factions so we don’t look upward and see where the wealth and power have really gone. You’ll pull us together to get that wealth and power back for the people.

You wouldn’t be the first Democratic president to do something like this. On the eve of his 1936 reelection, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the American people that in his first term of office:

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

FDR won by a landslide.

Give ’em hell, Joe.

This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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