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Joel Kotkin’s Middle-Class Muddle

When Alan Greenspan admits free market ideology is flawed, you know conservative thought is up a creek.

But never fear: if conservative economic ideas have been discredited, the Right can still distort progressive ones.

Joel Kotkin’s recent article in Politico is a prime example of such misinformation. Kotkin recognizes that economic polarization has put the future of the nation’s middle class at risk. He doesn’t appear impressed by McCain’s warmed-over tax-cuts-cure-all dogma. But he isn’t willing to honestly assess Obama’s plans. Instead, Kotkin chooses to focus exclusively on Obama’s agenda for short-term economic rescue, which he discovers doesn’t adequately address the long-term problems of inequality and a faltering middle class. This disingenuous look at “recent proposals” conveniently overlooks the candidate’s larger agenda – including policies with real potential to strengthen and expand America’s middle class over time. But since Obama didn’t discover the middle-class squeeze just last week, his plans to address it aren’t part of Kotkin’s roundup of what’s been happening lately.

Kotkin’s instance on manufacturing political fault lines in absurd places (Al Gore is against infrastructure?) and implying cynical political payoffs behind every policy initiative suggest that he is not genuinely interested in Obama’s long-term plans to bolster the middle class. But the rest of us should be. And there’s plenty there.

Kotkin’s refusal to look at the big picture blinds him to Obama’s health care plan, for example, which would extend coverage to 34 million Americans while lowering costs for millions more. While the Obama health care plan is far from perfect, his proposed reforms would nevertheless reduce a major cause of strain and instability for middle-class families struggling to afford sky-high premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, or even purchase coverage at all. In short, they’d be a major step toward strengthening the middle class.

Creating middle-class is jobs is critical, Kotkin agrees. But he proceeds to overlook both Obama’s short-term Jobs and Growth Fund that would put Americans to work immediately building needed infrastructure projects and the candidate’s longer term plan to invest in green jobs that would help to foster an entirely new sector of the U.S. economy.

Kotkin complains that Obama’s tax cuts don’t create upward mobility, and when it comes to many of the tax plans, he’s right. But Kotkin must have missed the memo about the overwhelming bipartisan, cross-ideological consensus that the Earned Income Tax Credit lifts millions of working Americans out of poverty. And it leaves us with the question: what does create upward mobility? After all, Kotkin denounces Obama’s support for education as nothing more than a sop to the liberal professoriate. And Kotkin neglects to even mention the Employee Free Choice Act which would make it easier for working people to join unions – another proven route to earning middle-class wages and benefits. While our critic would no doubt find it easy to uncover a political payoff in Obama’s support for this measure, the truth is it has tremendous potential to grow the middle class by enabling working Americans to improve their own jobs.

Obama has endorsed policies to help middle-class families cope with income and job loss when they take time off to care for a new baby or a sick relative. He has crafted plans to help middle-class families hold on to their single greatest asset – their homes. And he has thought out proposals to improve middle-class retirement security. Kotkin’s cheap shots do justice to none of this and prevent us from evaluating policies that could genuinely address the future of the American middle class.

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Posted at 10:39 AM, Oct 29, 2008 in Economy | Election 2008 | Middle-class squeeze | Politics
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