President Obama continued to lay out his second-term agenda this week, warning in an interview with the New York Times that growing inequality is weakening the country’s social fabric, undermining ordinary Americans’ belief in upward mobility and stoking race and class divisions as Americans feel they must fight for a piece of an increasingly shrinking pie.
“If we don’t do anything, then growth will be slower than it should be. Unemployment will not go down as fast as it should. Income inequality will continue to rise,” he said. “That’s not a future that we should accept.”
The president also addressed the connection between racial justice and economic justice in the United States, noting that the 200,000 people who took part in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the leaders of the civil rights movement weren’t “just folks who believed in racial equality. It was people who believed in working folks having a fair shot.” Obama added that if Congress continues to push the status quo on austerity, ”racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot. If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested. Everybody feels as if we’re rolling in the same direction.”
Obama warned that he would not “sit around and twiddle my thumbs for the next 1,200 days” if Republicans in Congress continue to obstruct his agenda. “I will seize any opportunity I can find to work with Congress to strengthen the middle class, improve their prospects, improve their security,” he said, but indicated that he would stretch the limits of his authority to move forward policies that encourage growth over “damaging” austerity.
Addressing Ben Bernanke’s successor at the Federal Reserve, Obama said, “I want a Fed chairman that can step back and look at that objectively and say, Let’s make sure that we’re growing the economy.”
He plans to announce his choice “over the next several months,” he said.