Doing so might risk his ability to raise political contributions from donors whose wealth comes from profits made because cheaper labor is available offshore. And it might offend many middle-class, even poor, people who realize that their lives are better because they have access to cheaper goods made in China, Thailand, Mexico and elsewhere -- goods they couldn't afford if American workers were producing them.
So instead of launching into a radical critique of American capitalism, the president hints around the edges. He plays class warfare, even while he protests that he isn't. Instead of embracing redistribution of wealth directly, he creates straw men, as he did over and over again in the speech.
He claimed that it's unfair for construction workers, teachers, and nurses earning $50,000 a year "to pay a higher tax rate than somebody pulling in $50 million," and that a "quarter of all millionaires now pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households." He even said that "some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent."
But as The Washington Post pointed out, of the top 400 wealthiest individuals in the U.S. in 2008 (the last year for which such data is available), most paid in excess of 35 percent in taxes and "only 17 had a marginal rate of zero to 26 percent." Even the Post acknowledged that for this handful of individuals, there might well be reasonable explanations why they paid so little, including that they earned little or nothing that year.
If Barack Obama were really another Teddy Roosevelt, he'd take his chances and say what he means. If he wants to redistribute wealth and tell corporations how much profit they can earn and how many workers they must hire, let him take his case to the American people.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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