What is socially just? Can wealth be distributed? Who bears the burden? These are all un-American questions, but in the presently ongoing presidential election campaign, they are suddenly being asked. Barack Obama is already testing to see if the topic is suitable for the big battle for office. Yet, he must proceed cautiously.
Statistics are unreliable instruments, especially in a country like the U.S. that digests numbers and reads tables so frenetically and in so doing, creates the necessary data for every interpretation desired. But now the evidence is increasing that with the help of statistics, America is also finding a big topic that could provide for an overdue mobilization in time for the election: justice.
How, then, is wealth distributed justly? Who bears the burden? These are all un-American questions, but in the presently ongoing presidential election campaign they are suddenly being asked, and the election machine of the president is carefully testing their capacity in the big battle for office.
A Pew survey just delivered impressive data, beginning with wide sympathy in all parts of society for the Occupy movement to the statements about the intimate relationship between big money and excessive power. Now the Republicans are voluntarily delivering fuel for this so seldom observed class debate, because the angry right is focusing its wrath on candidate Mitt Romney, who paid on average only 15 percent in taxes. The man earns his money with capital investments and is assessed according to the extremely attractive capital gains tax. If he owned a screw and bolt factory or increased his sizable fortune by other means, he would have to pay 38 percent. An average worker, in any case, pays more than this man.
And what is the president doing with that? In December, Obama had a try at Roosevelt and tested the class battle in Kansas with a speech on justice. The crisis provided him the perfect occasion. It still holds true: America did not become resentful overnight or wait for a strong social state. To the contrary, the killer argument — more taxes equals more government equals more waste — still unfolds its deterring effect. Thus, a class warrior must proceed carefully.
The Gap Is Bigger
But, viewed statistically, the U.S. has done the unheard of in the crisis years. The gap between poor and rich has grown. Big money has created its own world, with separate taxes and separate subsidies and separate politicians. The old social contract is suddenly no longer honored. It provided that the less privileged would at least be taken a bit further on the way to prosperity and a better life with work programs and tax allowances.
This tacit pledge no longer exists, and in the process, an important part of the social contract is broken. Suddenly, not everyone is able to manage it any longer. Obama could profit from this atmosphere if — yes, if — he himself had not delayed three years in presenting the representatives of big money with the bill. And by the way: They’re financing his election campaign.