During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama's guiding principle was that he "would not forget the middle class." Indeed, David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, told me after the election, "We held that North Star in our sights at all times. We made many mistakes along the way, but we always remembered that we were running because, as Barack put it, the dreams so many generations had fought for were slipping away." Well, you'd need a pretty powerful telescope to see that North Star these days.
According to Plouffe, Obama and his team decided that he should make a run for the White House because "the core leadership had turned rotten" and "the people were getting hosed." But the extent to which the people have continued to be hosed and the middle class assaulted becomes shockingly clear when the baby steps taken to bail out Main Street are compared to the all- hands- on- deck, no- expenses- spared bailout of Wall Street. In fact, the economic devastation of the middle class is a lot more threatening to the long- term stability of the country than the financial crisis that saw trillions of taxpayer dollars funnelled?either directly or through government guarantees? to Wall Street.
The middle class is teetering on the brink of collapse just as surely as AIG was in the fall of 2009? only this time, it's not just one giant insurance company (and its banking counterparties) facing disaster, it's tens of millions of hardworking Americans who played by the rules. This country's middle class is going the way of Lehman Brothers? disappearing in front of our eyes. A decline that began decades ago has now become a plummeting free fall.
Just how bad things have gotten was succinctly? and bracingly? summed up by Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel charged with monitoring the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP): "One in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings."
The Bush and Obama administrations bailed out America's big banks because it suddenly became imaginable that the financial system might collapse. When we take a hard look at what's happening to America's middle class, its disappearance suddenly becomes not only imaginable but, unless drastic action is taken, inevitable.
Copyright @ 2010 by Arianna Huffington. Reprinted by Permission of Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.