Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
One reason for hope is the statistic that 66 percent of the American public feels that “the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed.”
So let’s redistribute wealth. These are vastly popular demands—and they may get more popular after people see a new study that shows the top 1 percent ballooning its income by 275 percent from 1979 to 2007.
No wonder Occupy Wall Street and the “We Are the 99 Percent” movement is spreading so fast.
And speaking of Occupy Wall Street, 43 percent of Americans said they agreed with it versus only 27 percent who said they disagreed.
Another heartening statistic reveals that 69 percent of the public think the policies of the Republicans in Congress favor the rich. Imagine that! A plurality also thinks that Obama’s policies favor the rich, though that figure was 28 percent.
The reason for concern, though, is that 89 percent distrust government to do the right thing, at a time when we desperately need government action to solve the economic problems facing us.
Obama has contributed to this problem by not proposing a big enough stimulus bill early in 2009 and by not forcing the banks to reduce the principal on people’s mortgages or to impose a moratorium on foreclosures. And Republicans have so sabotaged the already inadequate plans by Obama to aid the economy that many people are concluding that government can’t do anything good.
This pessimism, while understandable, perfectly serves the purposes of the top 1 percent.
This may be the ultimate tragedy of the Obama Presidency: He has discredited progressivism without enacting it.
“Many middle-class Americans are wondering whether progressives can really deliver a better economic life,” Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson warned in their excellent book, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. “And, perhaps most challenging, progressives are losing because the well of public trust in government has been so badly poisoned by the failures of government to deliver that life in the recent past.”
The super-rich, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch Brothers, and their ilk have been systematically poisoning this well. Bill Clinton did his part, too, with NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall.
And once poisoned, a well is hard to un-poison.
That’s what the corporations and the top 1 percent are banking on.