President Obama spoke yesterday at the AP luncheon and laid out the stark contrast between progressive and conservative visions for America (full transcript). He asked: "Can we succeed as a country where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well, while a growing number struggle to get by? Or are we better off when everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules?"
A main vehicle for answering these questions is the Ryan Budget, which recently passed the House with almost full Republican support; only 10 Republicans voted against and there was no Democrat support. Granted Rep. Ryan's rhetoric about the general ideas sounds good but it belies what his budget actually does, and in so doing reveals just what the conservative worldview has in store for the rest of us. The President accurately notes that this budget will benefit the "shrinking number of people [who] do exceeding well" at the expense of "a growing number [who] struggle to get by." How so?
It's doubling down on the failed policy of trickle-down economics that "proposes massive new cuts in annual domestic spending –- exactly the area where we've already cut the most." He specifically lists the programs involved and how much the cuts would be. This is supposed to be paid for by closing tax loopholes yet not one single loophole is mentioned in this budget. Meanwhile oil companies continue to get their subsidies and the rich get an even bigger tax cut of $150,000 per year for millionaires. Hence Obama correctly labeled this plan "social Darwinism." That is their vision for America.
He didn't just criticize conservative ideology; he offered his alternative vision, which was at the beginning of the speech. Contrary to specious claims that his policies are socialist he affirms that "the true engine of job creation in this country is the private sector, not Washington." He "believe[s] deeply that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history." He shares the conviction that "the values of self-reliance and personal responsibility that remain the cornerstone of the American idea." Where he differs though is that self-reliance and personal responsibility in a vast, complex society are only part of the story, with another side being "through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves." This is especially the case when the deck has been stacked by corporations and their government cronies so that there no longer is an equal opportunity for one to build on self reliance. And the Ryan budget serves only to continue that stack for the 1% and against the 99%, in spades.
Obama enumerated all the social programs necessary to keep our commitment to the American people, from infrastructure maintenance and development to Medicare to education and scientific research. And he properly framed them as investments in our society rather than the merely deficit-creating liabilities of Republican framing, even noting that at one time they agreed with this, naming the programs of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan. Not incidentally, none of the latter would ever get the Republican nomination these days.