Highlights from Obama’s speech in Kansas on equality and fairness

On the growth of inequality in America:  “But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded.  Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people.  Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success.  Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before.  But everyone else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t – and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.”

On the need for rebuilding the middle-class:  “But this isn’t just another political debate.  This is the defining issue of our time.  This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.  At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.”

On President Teddy Roosevelt’s call for economic and social justice in America:  “In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt came here, to Osawatomie, and laid out his vision for what he called a New Nationalism.  “Our country,” he said, “…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”

For this, Roosevelt was called a radical, a socialist, even a communist.  But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for in his last campaign:  an eight hour work day and a minimum wage for women; insurance for the unemployed, the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.”

On protecting and renewing American workers:  “And if you’re someone whose job can be done cheaper by a computer or someone in another country, you don’t have a lot of leverage with your employer when it comes to asking for better wages and benefits – especially since fewer Americans today are part of a union.”

On the lies of Republican economics:  “Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there’s been a certain crowd in Washington for the last few decades who respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune.  “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us.  If only we cut more regulations and cut more taxes – especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger.  Sure, there will be winners and losers.  But if the winners do really well, jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everyone else.  And even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, they argue, that’s the price of liberty.

It’s a simple theory – one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government.  It fits well on a bumper sticker.  Here’s the problem:  It doesn’t work.  It’s never worked.  It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression.  It’s not what led to the incredible post-war boom of the 50s and 60s.  And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade.

Look at the statistics.  In the last few decades, the average income of the top one percent has gone up by more than 250%, to $1.2 million per year.  For the top one hundredth of one percent, the average income is now $27 million per year.  The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her workers now earns 110 times more.  And yet, over the last decade, the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about six percent.

It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal.  But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work?  That’s inexcusable.  It’s wrong.  It flies in the face of everything we stand for.

But in the long term, we have to rethink our tax system more fundamentally.  We have to ask ourselves:  Do we want to make the investments we need in things like education, and research, and high-tech manufacturing?  Or do we want to keep in place the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in our country?  Because we can’t afford to do both.  That’s not politics.  That’s just math.”