OK, I admit it. I’m excited about tomorrow’s night State of the Union speech. Here’s why. (I mean, “here’s why” besides the fact that I’m a wonky beltway denizen with a twisted utility function.)
We are poised at a unique moment in time, a moment when the structure of our economy and the basic principles and values that underlie that structure are of great concern to large numbers of people. The rise of issues like excessive income inequality, insufficient economic mobility, fairness in the tax structure, the loss of manufacturing work, the role of globalization—are all much more present in the echo chamber of national debate then they’ve been in my lifetime, and I’m kinda old.
Moreover, it is a moment that poses critical choices: what is the role of government in maintaining or changing that structure, what is the role of regulation, what tax policies should be invoked, what jobs policies…or is it, as the Tea Party and their representatives would argue, that government itself is the problem (putting aside for a second that they tend to exclude Medicare, Social Security, and defense—over half the budget—from that formulation)?
I believe these questions and choices will be at the heart of the President’s speech.
Some conservatives have tried to thwart the conversation. Gov Romney has argued that issues of income inequality are motivated by the “bitter politics of envy” and should only be discussed in “quiet rooms.”
But the fact is his candidacy itself has raised issues that go directly to the heart of these fundamental questions: to what extent do financial innovation and the activities of private equity firms create real value that helps the broad middle class and not just those at the top of the wealth scale? Why should we favor financial assets over paychecks in the tax code? Does achieving a sustainable budget path require that we ask more from those who have far and away done the best?
I don’t know where the President, nor for that matter, the majority of electorate will come down on these existential issues. What I do know is that this conversation will not be relegated to quiet rooms. It will be in many living rooms tomorrow night, and I suspect and hope that’s just the beginning.