This is a very new thing. Not long ago, even the Democrats didn't talk much about income inequality. A couple of presidents ago we had Clinton economics, not much different from Reagan economics. Oh, maybe Bill's economy trickled down a little harder on the parched 99% than the Gipper's, but it hardly put a dent in the drought.
Now, income inequality is the issue that won't go away, even in a growing economy. They say a rising tide lifts all boats, but not if you have a fifty thousand dollar boulder of student debt in the keel. Not when your take home pay is anchored to the sea bed.
For decades now the one and only economic mandate has been growth, growth, growth. Well, sure, growth is a good thing. Balanced, healthy, well-distributed growth builds a happy, healthy society. But wild, isolated, badly-distributed growth is as unhealthy to the body politic as it is to a body. There's a name for that kind of "growth": Cancer.
Ladies and Gentleman, we have been diagnosed. And everybody knows it. When even Jeb Bush is basing his proto-campaign on "The Right to Rise," you know the idea has metastasized. Suddenly, Elizabeth Warren is breaking out like measles in Disneyland. Everyone from Chris Christie to the Tea Party is talking about a fair shake for the little guy. This is nothing short of miraculous.
Now, before my progressive friends blow a head gasket, I hasten to say that I'm only talking about the issue here, not the proffered solutions. So far, the GOP answer to the inequality produced in the last 40 years is more of the same. That would be exactly what put us in this fix. It's kind of like they're prescribing Marlboros for lung cancer, but that's not the point I want to make.
The point is, when a putative candidate like Jeb Bush searches the electoral landscape for the tagline that will usher him into the White House and finds "The Right To Rise," instead of the same old GOP phony war on "class warfare," you know something deep and important has changed.
Amazingly, after their latest electoral triumph, the GOP is telling us to judge them by "how they help the middle class." Not whether they repeal Obamacare or reverse gay marriage or bomb Iran or nationalize the nation's wombs, but on how successful they are at reversing income inequality, the one issue they're least equipped to do anything about. Why would they do that?
Because, to torture an old cliche, the chickens have come home to roost and if they don't, their electoral goose is cooked.
This is good news, people. Don't scorn it. We need all the good news we can get.
Who are we to thank for this astonishing turn of events? Well, history for one. This problem has been building for a long time, and given enough pressure any bubble will burst.
But one group of people did more to pump up the pressure than anyone had in years, and it's time I gave them their due. Take a bow, Occupy folks, you earned it.
Yes, that motley crew with a chaotic voice, no discernible program and the staying power of an internet meme wound up doing more good than most of us gave them credit for. They planted a seed, and, watered by the tears of millions of inadequate paychecks, it grew and grew. From the bottom up.
Trickle-down economics ran headfirst into trickle-up politics. Maybe, this time, democracy has a shot.
One can never predict what fresh hell the world will toss up between now and when Hillary faces the ragged survivor of the 2016 GOP primaries. The next election may feature raging debates about ISIS, Ukraine, Boko Haram, the South China Sea, the breakup of the EU, or some other place, not yet on anyone's radar. About the only place on earth one can confidently say will have no impact on the next election is Benghazi.
But, while we can't know what godforsaken land will provide the foreign policy fireworks in the 2016 presidential contest, the lines of the domestic fight are already drawn.
The consensus is already there, the slogans are already being written, the scramble for the high ground already begun. Get ready for the Income Inequality Election.