Attacking Inequality From All Sides

Attacking Inequality From All Sides

President Obama could have used his State of the Union to tackle political inequality as well

It was nice to see President Obama make an end run around a dysfunctional Congress Tuesday night, announcing that future federal contracts will require workers be paid at least $10.10 an hour.

For many friends of mine, $10.10 represents a significant raise, so I’m happy for them. I’m also pleased to see the President take decisive action against inequality, one of the biggest challenges our nation faces.

However, I couldn’t help but wish Obama had used his State of the Union speech to tackle all of inequality’s facets — including who is and is not represented in our politics.

With the gerrymandered House more accountable to right-wing primary voters than to the general public, and the Senate immobilized by minority abuse of the 60-vote filibuster rule, the President had clear chances to integrate political inequality into his message. Yet he said little about the problem, and committed to nothing toward fixing it, even as he outlined the drastic steps it had forced him to take.

There are many connections between political inequality and economic inequality. Our pay-to-play campaign finance system gives politicians a huge incentive to ignore voters in favor of wealthy donors. And for the first time, over half of our legislators are millionaires themselves.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with being rich, but it’s undeniable that the most well-off Americans have different policy priorities from the rest of us. Why else would deficit reduction (an issue the wealthy disproportionately care about) dominate Congress’s agenda for years while unemployment, the climate, and other Main Street priorities are left in the cold?

President Obama’s initiative to help the neediest among us is admirable, but he won’t be in the White House forever. If he wants our government to advance equal opportunity for years to come, he’d do well to strive today for a democracy that represents all Americans.