Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

The sorrow and the pity of Obama’s budget

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 11, 2013 21:15 UTC

Pity Barack Obama. Everything in his life experience prepared him to be the president who would take on the big challenge of the 21st century: rising income inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class.

His peripatetic youth taught him about the price of plutocracy. In an interview unearthed by Zachary A. Goldfarb of the Washington Post, in 1995 Barack Obama, plugging his autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” recalled that experience for the Hyde Park Citizen, his neighborhood edition of a newspaper that bills itself as the “Premiere African American Weekly” in Chicago.

“My travels made me sensitive to the plight of those without power and the issues of class and inequalities as it relates to wealth and power,” he said.

“Anytime you have been overseas in these so-called Third World countries, one thing you see is a vast disparity of wealth of those who are part of the power structure and those outside of it.”

As an adult, he didn’t take the obvious and lucrative path for an editor of the Harvard Law Review: a high-flying Wall Street career. Instead, Obama returned to Chicago and continued to focus on the issues of the underclass he had first addressed there as a community organizer.

America’s middle class goes global

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 15, 2012 20:17 UTC

President Barack Obama did a miserable job of making his own case last week. But speak to his supporters and the pitch is clear: The American middle class is being hollowed out; Obama’s self-appointed mission is to try to save it.

That is what I heard from Jeffrey Liebman, one of the president’s economic advisers, at a debate about the election I moderated at Columbia University on Monday. Liebman said the central difference between his candidate and Mitt Romney was the president’s view that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Instead, he believes policy needs to focus on the middle class. Economic growth, he said, should come from the middle and radiate out.

In a separate interview, Mark Gallogly, co-founder of the private equity and credit investment firm Centerbridge Partners and one of Obama’s earliest supporters on Wall Street, likewise emphasized the middle class. The president’s overriding concern, Gallogly told me, was with the workers who make $24,000 a year. Their lot is a pressing issue, Gallogly argued, because even before the recession there had been persistent downward pressure on middle-class wages. Yesterday’s middle-class job can land you among the working poor today.

Obama makes his case amidst Reagan’s shadow

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 6, 2012 17:07 UTC

If there had been an empty chair at the Democratic convention this week, its ghostly occupant would have been Ronald Reagan.

Barack Obama admiringly referred to Reagan’s transformational presidency during the 2008 election campaign. That enraged the Clintonites, but then-Senator Obama’s take on the historical shifts in American politics was absolutely right. If you doubt that, just think back one week to the Republican convention, which was above all a coming-out party for Reagan’s 21st-century heirs.

Reagan’s legacy is so powerful because he identified the state as the central issue in American politics. That is still true today. Both in Tampa, Florida, where the Republican promise was to shrink the state, and in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Democrats’ promise is to transform the state into a more effective servant of the middle class, the big question is what government should do, and how big it should be.

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