Howard Dean: Redistribution Of Wealth Is What Government Does


Howard Dean made the sharpest comparison yet between what the protesters in Egypt are standing for, why they're standing for it, and why we should pay attention to similar circumstances in this country. His key point is toward the middle of the video, where he says this:

The fact of the matter is when social inequality and wage inequality gets too large, you have social instability. we are in a position now where we are in trouble in this country. I wouldn't say we could be Egypt next week, but people really are disillusioned by the government and corporations. They don't trust any institution very much, and that's why. I think the President missed a chance to say that in front of the Chamber. he would have gotten i think a lot of credit from the American people if he had.

I don't agree that saying it to the Chamber would have gotten a lot of credit from the American people. I doubt most people would even know he'd said it, and if they did, it would have been so twisted up that it would have played as a negative, given today's environment. But what Governor Dean says about inequality is right on the money.

Granted, in this country we have elections. Egypt doesn't. And in this country we have free speech and ostensibly, freedom of the press. Egypt doesn't. Finally, in this country there is still a social safety net, which Egypt does not have. In those respects, we are much different from Egypt. But when it comes to income and wealth inequality, the US surpasses Egypt, and it has indeed fostered mistrust in government and business.

Further, the Citizens United decision lends itself to further distrust, because the corporate "person's" voice will carry farther and louder than any one citizen will. Look no further than the Koch Brothers' bought-and-paid-for Energy and Commerce Committee in the House. Never in my lifetime has there been a more obvious subversion of democracy than the 2010 midterm elections. I know this isn't news to many of you reading this, but it really is important for our "side" to begin to shift the conversation away from the right-wing tropes and come around to a real discussion of what "redistribution of wealth" means, what it is, what it isn't, and why the last 30 years represent a consistent governmental redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the upper tier.

While I don't necessarily think a speech at the United States Chamber of Commerce would be the place for that, I do see that message lacking overall from what we're hearing from the White House. 99ers should be interviewed on The Last Word, to tell their side of what it's like to be "downsized" and have wealth redistributed to the corporations who "downsized" them to begin with. Prosperity and recovery shouldn't be measured by what the Dow closes at, but by whether more people can afford to put food on the table without government or charitable assistance.

Bob Herbert's editorial in today's New York Times says it far better than I:

Corporate profits and the stock markets are way up. Businesses are sitting atop mountains of cash. Put people back to work? Forget about it. Has anyone bothered to notice that much of those profits are the result of aggressive payroll-cutting — companies making do with fewer, less well-paid and harder-working employees?

For American corporations, the action is increasingly elsewhere. Their interests are not the same as those of workers, or the country as a whole. As Harold Meyerson put it in The American Prospect: “Our corporations don’t need us anymore. Half their revenues come from abroad. Their products, increasingly, come from abroad as well.”

American workers are in a world of hurt. Anyone who thinks that politicians can improve this sorry state of affairs by hacking away at Social Security, Medicare and the public schools are great candidates for involuntary commitment.

Lawrence and Governor Dean alluded to a very important part of the President's speech yesterday, which Mike Lux wrote about in detail. The president's framing of the importance of government regulations in commerce was excellent and important. Wrapping it all up with a call to patriotism was also excellent and important. But now it's time to move past catering to these Birchers and start calling the entire country to patriotism, which means ending the meme of "me" and beginning a realistic discussion of poverty, inequality, and how best to change that.

Transcript follows (It's the MSNBC transcript that accompanies their video, so all typos, errors and other problems are entirely theirs):

O'DONNELL: joining me now, former governor howard dean. thanks for joining me tonight.

DEAN: thanks for having me on, lawrence.

O'DONNELL: as you know, there's a lot of worry from progressives that the president is sucking up to the chamber of commerce and wall street. is today's speech an indication they should be worried?

DEAN: i don't think so. the chamber, this is a really interesting meeting. first of all, he gave a business oriented speech, but he's done that before, and that's appropriate at a time where jobs are in trouble. he did talk to them about investing, which they haven't done as much as they should. this is also not wall street. these are the guys that actually do create jobs, which wall street mostly pushes around paper. these guys had mostly nothing to do with getting us into this recession, which wall street of course is probably the largest factor in. so it's not the same as wall street. the other point i make, it is kind of an interesting political deal. the president gets to look like he's in favor of jobs and move to the middle. the chamber changed in the last election cycle and became part of the right wing. the kind of ads they ran were embarrassing. a lot of local chambers stopped paying dues to the national chamber. corporations, large corporations didn't want to be associated with it. so the chamber's got to rehabilitate itself. they got a way to go. they were the most partison organization in the last election. so this is a very interesting thing. if i were the president, i'm not sure i would have been interviewed by bill o'reilly, but i'd go to see the chamber. but the chamber gets to be rehabilitated a bit as well.

O'DONNELL: governor, i thought there was a huge omission in the speech. really infuriating omission which i will get to. the president talked about the things he was trying to do to make america a more business friendly place for these guys to do business. and then he said this.

OBAMA: now, to make room for these investments, in education, in innovation, in infrastructure, government also has a responsibility to cut spending that we just can't afford. that's why i promised to veto any bill that loaded up with earmarks. that's why i proposed that we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.

O'DONNELL: governor, to pay for the investments, all he talked about was spending cuts. he did not say one word about the top income tax bracket that we just had that big fight over in december. the president said at the time he still wants to increase it, they only extended for two years. he's got to convince the country that we need to increase it those four percentage points, and the people that need to pay that income tax rate were sitting right in front of him. wasn't this the place to make that case to them? that they will be investing in a better country by paying their fairer share of taxes?

DEAN: i think that was a mistake on the president's part. the president got a lot of kudos for mentioning he wasn't going to extend the bush tax cuts again, he did not do that here. this was a little of tell them what they want to hear and leave the other stuff out. that i think was a mistake. look, the business community has in the past been socially much more responsible than they are now. i totally agree with this inequality stuff. and it is not a left, right issue. the fact of the matter is when social inequality and wage inequality gets too large, you have social instability. we are in a position now where we are in trouble in this country. i wouldn't say we could be egypt next week, but people really are disillusioned by the government and corporations. they don't trust any institution very much, and that's why. i think the president missed a chance to say that in front of the chamber. he would have gotten i think a lot of credit from the american people if he had.

O'DONNELL: and governor, he gave the brilliant description of regulation and how regulation can be beneficial to business and beneficial to the consumer, and i've never heard a president describe that so smartly, and i think the same kind of intelligence could have brought to the top tax bracket. you mention the o'reilly interview. let's listen to a piece of the o'reilly interview about income redistribution.

O'REILLY: do you deny that you're a man that wants to redistribute wealth?

OBAMA: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: You deny that?

OBAMA: absolutely. bill, i didn't raise taxes once, i lowered taxes in the last two years.

O'DONNELL governor, this is one of those things, you can see he's afraid of discussing what an increase in top tax rate actually does. this for me is i feel is why democrats so frequently lose the tax debate. you can see that they're afraid of the tax debate.

DEAN: that was an unusual thing. the president doesn't often get mouse trapped, especially by the likes of bill o'reilly, but he did get mouse trapped that time. he laid out a proposition that is we shouldn't have redistribution. that's what governments do is redistribute. the argument is not whether they should redistribute or not, the question is how much we should redistribute. if you had no redistribution, we would have back before the Magna Carta with a king. so the purpose of government is to make sure that capitalism works for everyone, not just the people that can run rough shot as they often do as the chamber has by throwing money around. so he missed that one because o'reilly laid out framed to proposition, the president didn't see the frame, and answered the question straight up. no, it is government's job to redistribute. the question is how much are we going to distribute. otherwise, we wouldn't have social security, medicare, and we wouldn't build roads.

O'DONNELL: there would be no poor neighborhood in america that had a paved road. thank you for joining me.

DEAN: thanks very much, lawrence.


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