The Week in Greed #13: The Speech Obama Didn’t Give


My job tonight, as my advisors see it, is to remind undecided voters that I’m a safe candidate, an inspirational pragmatist who can—despite my name and my skin color and my suspicious history of activism—be trusted not to upset the glittering apple cart of capitalism.

Let me start by assuring those of you who are undecided: I have never looked down upon success. I started life as a bi-racial kid with a poor single mom. I am now your president. Do the math.

For nearly four years, I have sought to find practical solutions to our national troubles. Progress has been incremental at best.

In the course of these efforts, I have been forced to conclude that the political system in this country is broken. It has become divorced from the well being of our citizens, and the survival of our species. The result has been an accelerating march toward self-annihilation.

We find ourselves in a spiritual condition properly understood as prophetic decline. Our enemies reside not among us, but within us, as fundamental human tendencies.

We have become, in essence, a nation in the thrall of greed. We have consented to the barbaric notion that some should enjoy an obscene luxury while others live in poverty. We have made idols of the rich, and virtues of their whims, in a manner that would sicken Jesus Christ Himself. We have confused the fruits of opportunity and hard labor with the rights of all human beings to lead decent lives.

My opponent is not evil. But whatever love he carries within himself has become disfigured. I know of no other way to describe a man who views the preservation of inherited wealth as a sign of human progress.

Still, he is merely a symptom of our affliction.

We all know that millions of Americans lack the means to feed their children, and that millions more starve overseas. We all know that we are living amid an unprecedented and ruinous prosperity at the expense of our own progeny.

This has nothing to do with the national debt—a fake issue contrived by fake hearts—but with the depletion of resources essential to our survival: clean water, clean air, a habitable planet.

More than these, though, Americans have lost our capacity to pay attention, to accept the suffering of others as our responsibility. We have chosen to distract ourselves from the emptiness of our civic and ethical lives with an orgy of empty consumption.

The government that so many Americans delight in excoriating is, in fact, a direct reflection of our own pathological values: our worship of greed, our monstrous sense of entitlement, our willingness to privilege convenience above civic duty.

It is the job of the modern politician to enable these values. We trot into your living rooms every few years to flatter and bribe you, to reassure the “American people” that you are hard-working and noble and deserving of all the good fortune you enjoy.

We never mention that this country was built and expanded by means of murder and duplicity, or that its spasms of moral progress have done nothing to the stanch the original sin of avarice. We never tell you that we have lived high off the hog for too long and that the time has come, at last, to make due with less.

But that is what I am saying to you tonight.

The human capacity for generosity and kindness is not dead. But it is no longer something Americans can locate on their own. It must be fostered by a government that chooses advocacy of justice over acquiescence to the prevailing business interests.

Here, then, are the specific policies I intend to pursue in my second term:

1. A constitutional amendment banning all private monies from politics. Each candidate will instead have to set out in writing the specific policies he or she intends to pursue, and to debate these on radio, television, and personal forums. Anyone person caught funneling money to a candidate will be imprisoned for bribery, and any corporation heavily fined.

This amendment would include a ban on all organizations (Super PACs, 501C-4s etc.) that seek to influence the political process via paid propaganda. Citizens who want to be involved in their political process will volunteer.

2. A return to the tax rates that prevailed under President Eisenhower.

The richest Americans will pay 92 percent of their annual income to the government, unless they decide—as they did during the post-war boom—to reinvest their income by building new factories and hiring more workers. This would be accompanied by a closing of all loopholes designed to favor the affluent. (The current top rate is 35 percent, though millionaires and billionaires pay far less, owing to their manipulation of the tax code.) In the spirit of American self-reliance, and in the interest of preventing our country from being confused with an aristocracy, any inheritance of money or land will be taxed at the same Eisenhower-era rate.

3. The funds generated from these policies will be used to:

*Eliminate the national debt

*Construct public transportation systems in all major American cities

*Triple the salaries of all public school teachers, social workers, nurses, and police officers working with at-risk populations

*Establish a national health care system designed and headed by Dr. Atul Gawande to compete with the private sector.

*Provide tax credits for all household and companies that can prove they are carbon-neutral

*Quintuple our investment in renewable energy technologies, including job retraining for workers in unsustainable energy sectors

*Provide retraining for those millionaires and billionaires seeking to relearn basic skills, such as making their own food, and washing the dishes. (Also, if necessary, grief counseling.)

4. An immediate reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, requiring all radio and TV personalities who wish to devote “a reasonable amount of broadcast time to the discussion of controversial issues” to do so “fairly, in order to afford reasonable opportunity for opposing viewpoints.” No more for-profit demagoguery. If you want speech free, the price is the free speech of those with opposing views.

5. A constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote, so as to force national candidates to address the concerns of all voters.

6. The legalization of marijuana, to be taxed and regulated by state and federal authorities.

7. The establishment of taxes on luxury items that serve no clear public good, including but not limited to: private jet travel, expensive jewelry, gourmet foods and alcohol, SUVs, and cigarettes.

8. The imposition of heavy tax burdens placed on corporations that seek to displace locally owned and operated business.

9. The granting of all the rights of citizenship to the children of undocumented workers born in this country, and a path to citizenship for all undocumented workers who have paid taxes for at least a decade.

10. A public initiative to shrink our prison system by fifty percent within the next decade.

These policies are not an attempt to subvert capitalism, but to curb its inhuman and unsustainable excesses. They are, by any objective measure, common sense solutions to our collective crises. That they sound radical is a testament to the willful ignorance of our age.

If we fail to act to rein our worst impulses, if we continue to countenance passivity and denial, we will not only erode our standing as a nation. We will also condemn those who inherit the earth from us to lives of chaos and savagery.

I’m speaking about my children, and their children. And yours.


[Editor’s Note: Is there a policy you’d like to see President Obama pursue in his second term? Contribute your own planks to the WiG platform in the comments section below.]

Steve Almond's most recent book, Against Football, was a New York Times bestseller for at least three seconds. More from this author →