Did you breathe a sigh of relief when President Barack Obama signed the debt deal into law earlier this month? If not, you weren't the only one.
Raising the national debt ceiling may have forestalled an immediate U.S. default and credit collapse, but the deal will do absolutely nothing to address the real problems of our time: stubbornly high unemployment and a suffocating economy. Recovering from this Great Recession and achieving longer-term stability will
require a broad, informed, and unified movement to battle the corporate-backed powers that are waging economic war on working Americans.
While blame for this sad state of affairs falls mainly on Republican free-marketeers and the tea partiers who have incessantly pushed a cuts-only economic agenda, those players only occupy one end of a money-poisoned political spectrum that also includes most members of the Democratic Party. Obama, for his susceptibility to corporate influence and unwillingness to lead, is also responsible for American's economic doldrums.
When progressive leaders approached President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 about what would become the New Deal, his response was, "Make me do it." And so it goes for today's progressive movement, whether you bought into Obama's bold campaign promises or not.
Our job as concerned citizens is hard. These days, commonsense policies, rooted in sound economic analysis, are subject to ideological criticisms that often preempt their passage. We also know that popular opinion by itself won't necessarily affect our governing course.
Take tax policy, for example. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, taken before the debt deal passed, showed that 72 percent of voters support raising taxes on high-income households to reduce the deficit. The final package, the product of a political game dominated by radical conservatives, called for nearly $2.5 trillion in spending cuts and no tax measures that would raise new revenue. One Las Vegas Sun headline for a letter to the editor aptly summed up the outcome: "GOP controls half of government, but ignores the public."
Federal revenue is at its lowest level since the 1950s. The income share of the top-earning 1 percent of Americans has reached heights unseen since 1928, just before the Great Depression. Despite these phenomenal gains, this elite group continues to enjoy historically low federal taxes. Between rates, deductions, and loopholes, they often pay lower effective rates than many middle-class families. As such, it should come as no surprise that the richest 1 percent of Americans now controls nearly as much wealth as the bottom 95 percent of the country combined.
Our circumstances are the result of decades of reforms that shifted taxes off the wealthy onto the middle-class under the pretense of "trickle-down" economics. That strategy has proven ineffective and needs to be reversed. Yet, conservative officials gnash their teeth and threaten the global economy at the mere mention of correcting those policy mistakes.
We can no longer allow a hopelessly unreasonable minority in a severely corrupted system to dictate the terms of our economy. MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan has asserted that Obama should abandon our "bought Congress" and begin a dialogue with voters to restore democracy and repair the economy.
Clearly, we can't sit and wait for Obama to knock on our doors to chat. Our elected leadership will do what it will for as long as we allow it. Indeed, we can't "make them" fix the economy by asking them to do it. We can only get it to happen by organizing, educating, and mobilizing people from all walks of life to fight for justice in all places where it does not exist, from our nation's capital to our own neighborhoods.
This op-ed by UFE's Mazher Ali was originally published and distributed by OtherWords.org on August 22, 2011.