On December 6, President Obama gave a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, in which he called for a more “fair” society that has less “inequality” and “rebuild[s] the middle class in this country.” Predictably, Fox News figures -- who have proven they will defend the rich at any cost -- reacted by calling Obama a “socialist” who was promoting “class warfare,” then even went on to falsely claim Obama said that " 'liberty' doesn't work" and “freedom doesn't work.”
The attacks began in the first minute of today's broadcast of Fox & Friends. Following a montage of clips of Obama using the word “fair” in his speech, guest host Juliet Huddy said, “Will [Obama's] strategy of class warfare really work?” Later, Huddy hosted Fox News contributor Dick Morris to call Obama's speech “awful” and claim it promoted a “collectivist European socialist philosophy.”
At one point, the co-hosts brought on Fox Business host Stuart Varney to launch similar attacks. Co-host Brian Kilmeade opened the segment by claiming that Obama “said prosperity for all is more important than freedom.” Then Varney claimed Obama said “rugged individualism doesn't work” and claimed that Obama thinks “capitalism created this [economic] mess.”
On-screen text during the segment was even clearer, suggesting that Obama thinks “freedom doesn't work” and that the “cost of liberty is to [sic] high for” Obama:
Of course, it doesn't take much imagination to guess that a sitting president of the United States doesn't actually oppose capitalism, liberty, or freedom.
Obama actually said the exact opposite, at one point saying that “the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history”:
OBAMA: [At the turn of the last century,] there were people who thought massive inequality and exploitation of people was just the price you pay for progress.
Theodore Roosevelt disagreed. He was the Republican son of a wealthy family. He praised what the titans of industry had done to create jobs and grow the economy. He believed then what we know is true today, that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. It's led to a prosperity and a standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.
What Obama did challenge was the theory of trickle-down economics:
OBAMA: Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt's time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let's respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes -- especially for the wealthy -- our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn't trickle down, well, that's the price of liberty.
Now, it's a simple theory. And we have to admit, it's one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That's in America's DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. (Laughter.) But here's the problem: It doesn't work. It has never worked. (Applause.) It didn't work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It's not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the '50s and '60s. And it didn't work when we tried it during the last decade. (Applause.) I mean, understand, it's not as if we haven't tried this theory.
Remember in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history. And what did it get us? The slowest job growth in half a century. Massive deficits that have made it much harder to pay for the investments that built this country and provided the basic security that helped millions of Americans reach and stay in the middle class -- things like education and infrastructure, science and technology, Medicare and Social Security.
Remember that in those same years, thanks to some of the same folks who are now running Congress, we had weak regulation, we had little oversight, and what did it get us? Insurance companies that jacked up people's premiums with impunity and denied care to patients who were sick, mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn't afford, a financial sector where irresponsibility and lack of basic oversight nearly destroyed our entire economy.
Obama pointed out that such policies have led to record levels of inequality:
Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year. I'm not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I'm saying people who make a million dollars every single year. For the top one hundredth of 1 percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her worker now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about 6 percent.
Now, this kind of inequality -- a level that we haven't seen since the Great Depression -- hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity, of strong consumers all across the country. That's why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars he made. It's also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.
And Obama is right -- income inequality between the poorest Americans and the richest has grown tremendously in the past few decades. As the Center for Economic and Policy Research showed in a December 2010 report, the lowest quintile of income earners saw their incomes increase 11 percent from 1979-2006, while the top 1 percent of earners saw their incomes increase 256 percent over the same period:
And Obama's ideas have the backing of large majorities of Americans: almost 75 percent of Americans think income inequality is a problem for the U.S.; 61 percent think the federal government should take action to address inequality; and more than two-thirds think millionaires should pay higher taxes.
Perhaps Fox thinks the American people hate “freedom” and “liberty,” too.