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The Betrayal of the American Dream -- A Once Vibrant Middle Class Is Now on the Brink

Donald Barlett and James Steele explain in their new book how American middle class has been impoverished and its prospects thwarted in favor of a new ruling elite.
 
 
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AMY GOODMAN: Democrats and Republican lawmakers are in a deadlock over whether to extend the politically decisive Bush-era tax cuts. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is planning to vote this week to extend all the cuts, but Obama says those Americans making above $250,000 a year should return to the tax levels they paid before Bush took office. Pointing to the Senate’s passage of the White House-backed proposal, Obama called on House Republicans to support the bill in his weekly address on Saturday.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This week, the Senate passed a plan that I proposed a few weeks ago to protect middle-class Americans and virtually every small business owner from getting hit with a big tax hike next year—a tax hike of $2,200 for the typical family. Now it comes down to this. If 218 members of the House vote the right way, 98 percent of American families and 97 percent of small business owners will have the certainty of knowing that their income taxes will not go up next year. That certainly means something to a middle-class family who has already stretched the budget as far as it can go.

AMY GOODMAN: In an interview on Fox News, Republican House Speaker John Boehner countered that Obama’s tax plan would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: President’s plan would cost about 700,000 new jobs that wouldn’t be created or could be lost by taxing small businesses. The House will not do that. The House will extend all of the existing tax rates. We’ve got 8 percent unemployment; we’ve got 41 months of it. This is not to be time—the time to be raising taxes on American small businesses.

AMY GOODMAN: As Republicans and Democrats continue disputing who should bare the brunt of the tax burden, our next guests argue America’s middle class has been decimated over the years due to policies governing not only taxes but also bank regulations, trade deficits and pension funds. Their new book chronicles how the American middle class has been systematically impoverished and its prospects thwarted in favor of a new ruling elite.

We’re joined now for the hour by Don Barlett and James Steele, the award-winning investigative reporters. They have worked together for over 40 years, first at the Philadelphia Inquirer, then at  Time magazine, most recently at  Vanity Fair. They’ve also written seven books. Their first book,  America: What Went Wrong?, was a  New York Times bestseller. They share two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Magazine Awards. Their new book is called  The Betrayal of the American Dream.

Jim Steele, Don Barlett, we welcome you both to  Democracy Now! Start off by laying out your thesis, Don. Start off by talking about the betrayal of the American dream.

DONALD BARLETT: It really goes back to when we did  America: What Went Wrong?, which was in '91. And at that time, people were upset around the country. They knew something was happening, but they didn't know what. And what made that book so successful was that we pulled everything together in terms of pensions and pay and union membership—and just everything economics. And you could see that there was a systematic attack going on on the middle class.

At that time, it was still kind of—you know, could have gone either way if there had been a political response, which there should have been, but there wasn’t. And as a result, when—we received just literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters of emails over the last several years saying, "Would you go back and look at this in terms of what you wrote the first time?" And if we made one mistake the first time, it was we grossly underestimated how fast this country was going to go down the tubes. And we really did.

 
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