One of Sen. John McCain’s goofier political moves came in the last couple of weeks of the campaign when — with eyes darting, arms pumping frenetically and lips sneering — he assailed President-elect Barack Obama for saying, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
Oh, wailed McCain, that’s vile socialism! And a chorus of right-wing harpies chimed in with overwrought accusations of “Marxism,” “communism” and outright “un-Americanism.” They thought they had caught Obama in a game-changing gaffe — omigosh, he just called for spreading America’s wealth!
The problem for the clueless McCainites, however, was that your average American was not repulsed, but cheered by Obama’s position. You could almost hear every working stiff in the land thinking to themselves: Hell, yeah, I’m for that — about time!
After all, for the past three decades, Wall Street and Washington have been using tax policy, trade policy, labor policy, regulatory policy, farm policy and every other policy they could think up to haul wealth from the workaday majority to the elites at the top. These forces of plutocracy have been fabulously successful. Since the early 1980s, when the new Gilded Age was launched as official policy, all of the net financial gains have flowed to the richest 5 percent of Americans, with the bulk of that going to the richest 1 percent and more than half of it going to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent.
This deliberate concentration of American’s wealth has made our economy undemocratic and top-heavy, and now the whole thing is toppling. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said about the last great financial crash, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”
Or, to put it in the more colloquial terms of my Texas upbringing: Money is like manure — it only works if you spread it around.
That’s what Obama has in mind, and one of the most productive ways to achieve it is to implement his big idea of reinvesting in the gumption and genius of grassroots people. He proposes to put Americans to work on two huge national needs: the repair and expansion of our inadequate infrastructure, and the conversion to a green energy economy.
In the presidential campaign, Obama developed well-thought-out proposals to address both initiatives, enlisting millions of workers, small businesses, inventors, designers, programmers, engineers, teachers, trainers, environmentalists — even those dreaded community organizers!
Across the nation, from big cities to rural areas, the public’s essential assets are in obvious need of work. Such old assets such as bridges, schools, roads, libraries, subways, parks and community centers need fixes and upgrades. Meanwhile, new assets need to be developed and put in place, including high-speed trains, solar and wind installations, free broadband access for all and conservation retrofits for homes and buildings.
Yes, this will cost some serious money — Obama’s own tally totals more than $200 billion, and the real number is likely to top $500 billion. But, unlike the gabillions that Washington is presently doling out to the failed Wall Street wizards, this will be money that goes into the real economy — it’ll produce tangible facilities and improvements that will deliver returns to America for decades to come; it’ll be spread into millions of households, generating new grassroots economic activity; and it’ll tap into America’s latent can-do spirit, helping to restore our sense of national purpose and unity.
Too many pundits and politicos — including some weak-kneed Democrats — are urging Obama to scale down his ideas for America, to go slow and to slide over to the middle of the road. But as a farmer told me years ago, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”
This election was about change, and the people were not voting for the small change of conventional politics. They were voting for big ideas, for boldness, and — yes — they were even voting to spread wealth to everybody.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.