The Campaign Speech I Wish Obama Would Give
By J.R. Kuwanski
My Fellow Americans,
We have been besieged by the biggest economic downturn since the 1930s, but we’ve made incremental gains, we’re on the right track; we just need to stay the course.
That’s how campaign speeches are supposed to begin. But that’s not what I’m going to say.
There’s a lot about my last term that I’m not proud of. Under my term, America has become more of an unjust and undignified society. Unemployment is at a life-shattering high. The reality is, lives have been ruined under my Administration. That’s not dramatics, it’s real. Dreams have been soiled and communities have decayed over the last four years.
The statistics don’t reveal what’s really happened. People’s lives do.
Rick, a mechanic, had a two car garage and a house in Vegas, with his wife, three kids, complete with soccer practice and Xbox. Then work started to dry up. Some cuts in the household budget were made. Things would pick up again.
But they didn’t. In fact there was so little work that Rick needed to look beyond car repairs. Though employers were either not hiring, or he was too old, under or overqualified, or the position demanded a large up-front payment.
Eventually, Rick lost the house. He and the family ended up in an unused caravan – no power, no water. He is now in a motel, all four family members in one room. His daughter has a stomach ulcer. There’s gang violence outside and the kids walk home from school. At times he does not want to live this life anymore.
Or Ms Smith’s story. A story that began in New York City – where she had been earning $57,000 a year as a document processor at a law firm. Ms Smith was coming up and things looked good for her and her 14 year-old son. She wanted to have more room for her child, to provide the American dream of a home, instead of just an apartment. So she moved to Georgia and there she found another well-paying legal job. But then her entire department was laid off. As she struggled to get work, she aimed lower, to temp jobs and then to the supermarket. Then the unemployment checks stopped coming, and the repo man came for her car. She lost her way of getting to work and lost her job at Christmas. Then the eviction. Afterwards she and her son spent time in a homeless shelter, until their time-allowance ran out. Now they stay in a storage locker, while she works part-time at a dollar store.
When I was growing up I was told, and believed, that in America, no matter who you were, if you worked hard and showed talent, you would elevate your situation. You could gain education, up-skill yourself, and achieve a dignified job and dignified wage. There were always going to be jobs for everyone. People thought that poverty and destitution were merely failings of moral character and a choice.
Now, one in every two college graduates are underemployed or without jobs altogether, many stuck in unskilled, low paid, precarious positions. They are now in tens-of-thousands-of-dollars’ of debt, and worry about their future. This generation of people wonder if they will ever be what they trained and hoped to be, what they were supposed to be.
And what about that mass of people without a college education, those who couldn’t study because they needed to work to pay for rent, and food, and transport. The loans were not enough, or the courses were too much. How are they ever going to up-skill and become part of the dreamed middle class?
What about those suburban mothers and fathers, out of work for over a year, bounced out of their decade long, college educated job; those “middle-class” parents who now rely on food banks and the charity of friends to feed their family? They have to choose between putting gas l in the car or fixing the leak in their child’s bedroom. Those parents, who as they slip further into despair and shame, check the remains of their life insurance policy to see if they are worth more deceased.
These stories come at a time when salaries, wealth and bonuses of the richest Americans have never been higher. Taxes are lower now than they were under Ronald Reagan. Wages are a smaller proportion of the economy than ever before. There is an unjust balance between elaborate decadence, of extreme, unimaginable wealth, limitless possibilities and, on the other side, the stress, uncertainty, desperation, indignity and powerlessness, for so many Americans.
This is not an economic downturn. It’s a national emergency. What else would you call it when millions of Americans are unemployed, without health insurance, moving from one unstable, unsafe accommodation to the next; when food banks are overloaded, homeless shelters overrun, tent cities emerging on the side of highways.
We’re told that this is inevitable. We have no choice. It is either stay as we are or face economic Armageddon. Many argue that it’s okay for some of us to have multiple homes, helicopters and swimming pools, while others live in storage facilities and tents. They tell us not to dare to intervene in the economy, and that if we do it will be Socialism and national collapse.
This is false. This is an arbitrary and manufactured choice, a fabricated ultimatum.
We do have a choice.
Our American economy is broken. Instead of productive industry, infrastructure and technology, and the mass employment that comes with that, the economy has remained reliant on unproductive financial speculation and frivolous consumer spending.
When I was elected four years ago I promised a change and a more just America. I’ve let you down on those promises. I’m sorry. I thought I could take a tempered approach of compromise into Congress and make incremental reforms. I thought the incessant, special-interest funded campaigns of both parties could be overhauled by my practical, direct engagement with the American people. I was wrong.
So here’s what I’m gonna do.
I’m putting forward a bill to limit campaign expenditure and contributions to 1970’s levels, adjusted for inflation, before things got completely out of control. I will lose donors, and there will be a frenzy of anti-bill publicity, spreading all kinds of misinformation. I ask you to instead consult a variety of news sources and make your own decision.
I’m proposing a public-works bill, building and repairing roads, schools, colleges, power stations and hospitals. This will increase productivity and will provide work to thousands. It will stimulate the economy within communities where the work is undertaken and help to rebuild people’s lives.
How will I pay for it? By restoring income, capital gains and inheritance tax rates to what they were under Ronald Reagan, inflation adjusted. Not socialism levels of tax, the tax rates that were under Ronald Reagan.
With the new revenue I will also increase the income eligibility threshold of Medicare, and continue with the healthcare reform bill. So that in the richest country in the world, people don’t die because they need to choose between paying rent and treating an infected hernia.
You’ll be told this is radical socialism. That’s crazy. America has always had a mixed economy of private enterprise and government involvement when and where the free-market needs assistance. For too many Americans right now, the market is not providing. Government needs to assist the market to restart, and fill the holes that it misses. These measures got us out of the last great depression. They work. We have to undertake them again now.
I’ve tried the other way. I’ve given billions to billionaires in the banks. It hasn’t worked. Neither will giving more tax cuts to millionaires. Bipartisan compromise hasn’t worked. But I can only make these reforms if I have the power of Congress. For that, I rely on your vote.