Barack Obama’s speech today was a magnificent piece of oratory, tuned with a pitch-perfect ear to the national mood. Backed by the imagery of US state power and religious righteousness, he rejected the fear-mongering abuses of the Bush administration in order to call for unity in the task of “remaking America.”
Although he spoke of the grave nature of the crisis facing the country, he asserted that “we remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.” This is what people want to hear: the problem is bad but it can be fixed, “we” have the resources and capability to turn it around.
But there is a disconnect between his egalitarian rhetoric that “all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness” — and his reference to the economy, when he blamed greed and irresponsibility on the part of some “but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” Does this mean that we are collectively responsible for the financial crisis?
What brought down the financial markets was the fact that wages have not risen in real terms for years; that people in the lower-wage sections have faced a decrease while the richest of the rich have accumulated ridiculous amounts of wealth for themselves; that banks and corporations focused on squeezing resources from the poorest sections of society in order to pad their profits.
Obama said that the time of “protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions” has passed. This ringing phrase sounds good: but it all depends on whose protected interests he means. Let it be the bankers who expect to receive state funds to bail out their high salaries and massive bonuses, not those living from day to day off a social security check.