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Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011 08:27 am

Obama fights for the poor. Poorly.

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U.S. President Barack Obama.
PHOTO BY OLIVIER DOULIERY/MCT
By gollies, America’s workaday majority of middle-class and poor people have a fighter on our side in Washington. Unfortunately, that fighter is Barack Obama.

He waved his white hankie of surrender in the debt ceiling battle, agreeing to a disastrous deal ruthlessly pushed by the loopiest of the tea party extremists in the Republican House. It slashes some nearly $1 trillion from national programs that ordinary Americans count on, puts Social Security and Medicare at risk, and promises to make our depressed economy, and even the deficit, worse.

Obama also cravenly conceded to the demand by GOP/tea party corporatists that those fortunate few at the tippy-top of our economy make no sacrifice whatsoever to the goal of deficit reduction. Tax-dodging corporations, hedge-fund profiteers and the richest 1 percent of our nation’s plutocratic elite are allowed by this sorry deal to retain every dime of their subsidies, tax breaks and other federal giveaways.

Not to worry, though, for as our champ signed his abject capitulation into law, he said that stage two of the deficit reduction process will be better. The pampered and privileged few, he insisted, will also have to “chip in,” reassuring all who will be harmed by this week’s deal that he’ll be “fighting for” fundamental principles of fairness in the next one.

But we’ve all seen again and again that this guy “fights” by backing up and begging for compromise. For example, even as he caved in last December to Republican demands that the ridiculous Bush tax cuts for the superrich be continued, he talked tough about fighting for fairness “next time.” When will next time be now?

I know a bit about fighting, having been a little guy growing up in a small Texas town where confrontations often popped up. I learned early on that you should never hit a man with glasses; you should hit him with something much heavier.

The heavy “something” that Obama has at his disposal is the fact that the American people are overwhelmingly on his side in this fight. The majority is sick and tired of paying the price for economic disasters caused by narcissistic greed of financial elites and corporate chieftains. They’re ready to smack the moneyed powers – and the politicians who kowtow to them – right in their snouts.

So, Obama shouldn’t be playing budgetary patty cake with John Boehner and Co. in the backrooms of Washington. Instead of negotiating over how much of FDR’s New Deal to throw out the window, he needs to FDR-up, get out of Washington and rally the majority to go after the greedheads and screwballs. If he’d lift his vision from budget numbers, he’d see that America’s great economic urgency is not the deficit, but creating good, middle-class jobs to get America moving again, moving upward – and moving together.

Today, we are a dangerously disunited society. Elite CEOs and big investors are grabbing all the gains, leaving the vast majority mired in recession and facing falling incomes. Since the recession technically “ended” 18 months ago, corporate profits have zoomed, sopping up an unprecedented 88 percent of America’s economic growth. Meanwhile, only 1 percent of the growth that we all help to produce has gone to wages and salaries, which is the source of income for about 90 percent of us.

Yet those same CEOs say they won’t invest in new jobs or raise wages until consumers start buying again. That’s like saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Hello, the consumers CEOs are waiting on are the workers whose jobs and wages the CEOs won’t increase.

You see, despite the GOP’s ideological claptrap about corporate executives being “job creators,” it is ordinary Americans who actually create jobs by spending from their paychecks. People who are out of work do not tend to be – how shall I put this? – “robust consumers.” Since consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of our country’s economic growth (and, in so doing, creates America’s jobs), the dogma of deliberately destroying the purchasing power of middle-class wage-earners is disastrous – like trying to cure a headache by chopping off your head.

This is why Obama needs to quit pampering the rich and fussing over budgets – and start launching a national, FDR-style jobs program that’ll immediately increase paychecks, perk up consumer spending and generate economic growth.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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