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When President Obama declared in December that gross inequality is the “defining challenge of our time,” he was right, and resoundingly so. As is his habit, however, he quickly backed away from the idea at the urging of pollsters and various Democratic grandees. 
I can understand the Democrats’ fears about venturing into this territory. It feels like a throwback to an incomprehensible time — to a form of liberalism that few of them understand anymore. Unfortunately, they really have no choice. Watching first the way the bankers steered us into disaster in 2008 and then the way they harvested the fruits of our labored recovery — these spectacles have forced the nation to rediscover social class, and as we dig deeper into the subject we are appalled to learn what has been going on for the last three decades. 
I was born in a comfortable middle-class America of the postwar years, the “affluent society” you hear about sometimes, and the shattering of that social order has been the story of my entire adult life. “Inequality” is an inadequate word for the Big Smashup, but we need some term to describe all the things that have gone to make the lives of the rich so superlative and the lives of people who work so shitty and so precarious. It is visible in the ever-rising cost of healthcare and college, in the deindustrialization of the Midwest and the ballooning of Wall Street, in the power of lobbying, in the dot-com bubble, in the housing bubble, in the commodities bubble. It was made possible by the signal political events of our time: the collapse of the New Deal coalition; the decline of labor; the infernal populism of the New Right; the fall of antitrust and the triumph of deregulation; the rise of Ronald Reagan, and after him Newt Gingrich, and after him George W. Bush, and after him the Tea Party, all of them bringing their pet tax cuts with them to Washington.
The word is a polite one, but “inequality” is what we say when we mean to describe the ruined downtown of your city, or your constant fear that the next round of layoffs will include you, or the impeccable air conditioning of your boss’s McMansion, or the way you had to declare bankruptcy when your child got sick. It is a pleasant-sounding euphemism for the Appalachification of our world. “The defining challenge of our time”?: Oh, yes.
Actually, let me offer a correction to Obama’s formula. What really defines our time is the simultaneous soaring of inequality and the maddening inability of most progressives (there are exceptions, of course) to talk about it in a way that might actually inspire anyone to get off their ass. Start with the word itself: Like “neoliberalism,” another favorite lefty term for many of these same developments, “inequality” is confusing. It is euphemistic and aloof. It gets easily muddled with other, similar-sounding issues like marriage equality, gender equality and equal housing opportunity. Its tone is also needlessly clinical, giving the whole debate a technical and bloodless air. 
Still, to read around on the subject is to get the feeling that certain liberals like it that way. “Needlessly clinical” is exactly their style. The subject, for them, must be positively cloaked in wonkery. They don’t talk much about “class,” like some troublemaker from the ’30s; they talk about “inequality,” which is a delicate and intricate signifier. Oh, it is extremely complex. It requires so many charts.  
My suspicion is that it makes an enormous difference. “Inequality” is not some minor technical glitch for the experts to solve; this is the Big One. This is the very substance of American populism; this is what has brought together movements of average people throughout our history. Offering instruction on the subject in a classroom at Berkeley may be enlightening for the kids in attendance but it is fundamentally the wrong way to take on the problem, almost as misguided as it would be if we turned the matter over to the 1 percent themselves and got a bunch of billionaires together at Davos to offer pointers on how to stop them from beating us over and over again in the game of life. (Oops — that actually happened.) (Thomas Frank, "Paul Krugman won't save us,"
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Patrick McEvoy-Halston
History is full of inequality. I know some small-people historians think they find egalitarianism in pockets here and there -- in the pre-modern witchcraft people, before masculine Science took over, for example -- but basically it's left to the anthropologists to point at whatever perpetually stuck people they've devoted their lives to studying, to show that at least we started from the right place … which in fact we didn't, for the reason these tribes have no "big men" is that they haven't even evolved to the point where they trust anyone with power. 
It's difficult to imagine anyone spelling such a great connivance that man has never figured its way out of the taught lies that keep a few of them grossly entitled and the rest weary strugglers. Common sense would say that for most of history most men have for some reason obviously wanted "big men" out there.  
Mostly I think they/we need these inflated people out there to keep Chaos at bay. Chaos being the wrath of maternal destruction, which these men -- inflated to titans -- ostensibly can handle for awhile before they too crash into her bloody menstrual Ragnarok, and we need to quickly patch together some others. As childrearing improves, as mothers aren't so lonely and abandoned that their children become emotional sops and even their sex toys,  as they fear the jealousy of their own mothers less -- postpartum depression -- and so don't neglect their children as if to show they're still primarily devoted to her, fears of Chaos abate, mostly, and it finally seems just obvious that we wouldn't allow some few to overlord the rest of us. 
But I don't think this is what is happening now. The reason we've got this split is primarily so that the small people don't feel possessed of anything so spelling of their selfishness, that they'd feel worthy of being apocalyptically abandoned for it. What they are accruing for themselves in abundance -- scars, evidences of suffering, from being beat on and beat on in the game of life -- gives them the "sunshine" they need: like warriors spit out of a ravaging war, they feel earned of care and even (maternal) gratitude. 
And if there's any sadism still in Her, well, they haven't left much for Her to chew on, now have they … which is a feeling of invulnerability so flawless and sublime it's worth a small gloat. We're hearing so much of atheists these days but we're seeing far more speared Christs. 
What populism should end up meaning is just us becoming small and re-bonding to the national mother, the mother nation. I think this will make us feel elated for awhile, safe; we might build a lot of things like the 30s folk and German Volk did. But very soon after most of our attention will be to punish those we've split the worst aspects of our mothers into, as well as the "guilty" parts of ourselves we long to be rid of so to become only good.  Hopefully Thomas Frank will point out the bad parts of what we'll be up to as well. 
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The argument cannot be about 'inequality.' Americans have always entertained the perverse hope to become filthy rich; that's why there cannot be a classic revolution. No one wants to be the proletariat here.
Fairness for the poor, humanitarian compassion --- these also cannot arouse a nervous public. 
The best political argument must be pragmatic. Jobs are produced when sales go up. Redistribution of buying power will makeour economy robust. Infrastructure  (from bridges to college) is essential for business success in a global market as well as preserving a basic sound quality of life.
Health insurance benefits cripple our small businesses- they cannot compete with companies around the world who do not have that fixed overhead.Therefore -Medicare should be expanded gradually to age 60, 55, 50 then become a national insurance option in the exchanges. Stop using 'single payer' as a term-- it never won hearts nor minds.Liberate business from the shackles of 1950 policy.
Tax carried interest, reset withholding cap, and add a penny a trade
to day traders' follies.
Democracy will fail if accumulated capital growing exponentially makes working hard, expertise and experience seem foolish
Safety, jobs,cost-saving insurance, infrastructure....pragmatics.
@mz sookie  The argument cannot be about 'inequality.' Americans have always entertained the perverse hope to become filthy rich; that's why there cannot be a classic revolution. No one wants to be the proletariat here.
That was the situation in Weimar Germany, when everyone wanted to be upwardly mobile bourgeoisie.  In 30s Germany, however, what became more important was your being "true" German. For real, the judge who's grandfather was Italian was at something of an astonishing loss to the plumber who's grandfather kept German. 
We could do the same thing here. If populism takes hold in America, and the only thing the nation cares about are the elite and the poor -- not the middle class -- couldn't you imagine the average American taking some pomp, in this ostensibly frozen class structure, in his / her not rising beyond his / her grandfather's station? He welded, and so too you. And it's nice the nation finally discovered you again, valued you again, but you've been doing the same the whole while. 
It'd be a lie -- before they were exactly as you described. But this has been edited out of them, by themselves, as this new self-conception has taken hold. They're the sons and daughters of hardworking, unassuming 19th-century lower class arrivals. The prosperous baby boomers, were an aberration, bubbled out of aberrant circumstances -- America post-war suddenly being larger than life … a million bucks suddenly in the hands of those who weren't going to know how to demurely spent it but rather of course buy the whole car lot plus a palace or two … they're virgins to this grandiose, overwhelming thing, so it's understandable, however much never to be repeated.  

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Still, to read around on the subject is to get the feeling that certain liberals like it that way. “Needlessly clinical” is exactly their style. The subject, for them, must be positively cloaked in wonkery. They don’t talk much about “class,” like some troublemaker from the ’30s; they talk about “inequality,” which is a delicate and intricate signifier. Oh, it is extremely complex. It requires so many charts. 
It's certainly worth exploring why they feel this need, why they have to greet poverty, the rest of America, as if doctors trying to temper the distress of their very first AIDS patient circa the early '80s -- trying to keep form before something that might possibly burst into deadly pustules before them, oh my! But we might be glad nevertheless of their manner. 
Obama's presidency has been 7 years of abating distress; everyone, everything, is "handled." Anyone hoping for satisfaction from him is going to come away instead as if quit -- the guy wasn't going to let us run our moods into him ... so impossibly cool! And we've got -- reforms. Healthcare, gay marriage, marijuana, possibly minimum wage increases. It's as if the left hand has been occupied quaying the growling dog while the right has done what it can to track some progress. To me this isn't a bad way for things to continue to go. 
It'll mean the further tracking of progress which will improve the lives of even the mad-dog people around us, who are discombobulated and useless owing to the progress we've already tracked, and who will only regain leverage, feel solid, when politics devolves to meet their sadistic and sacrificial needs; and it'll mean populism -- people dissolving their everyday sane grip so that they're perpetually Sunday group purgers and moaners --  never gets a hold. 
If we track some progress through a frustrating period of sacrifice and blockage we actually want, feel safe with, we might make it through until a romantic momentum -- a 1920s or 60s -- can take it over. To me that's our best bet. It is complicated -- or at least inevitably for awhile, frustrating. 
And oh, this is the second article in a row with the prominent Salon "newcomer" taking shots at Krugman. A long time ago I mentioned this was something I was waiting for -- Salon building momentum to go after him. Krugman's full of himself, in what we should recognize as in a good way -- he's well loved, and so he beams -- there's nothing masochistic or self-denying about him! If liberals can't any longer stand him either, it's because they've regressed to seeing self-love as something spoiled and worthy of punishment … progress, even in such a joy-suppressing / denying, very unhippie, "clinically" administered form as we've been able to tolerate these days, might be becoming too much even for them.

@Patrick McEvoy-Halston This article wasn't an attack on Krugman.  It was attacking the way the populist argumenthas been left to economists.  That's not Krugman's fault and Frank doesn't place the fault there.

@krabapple @PatrickMcEvoyhalston  Last article from Frank: 
In fact, there is no need to lift a finger to do much of anything, since vast, impersonal demographic forces are what rescued them from the trap I identified. They now have the luxury of saying, as Paul Krugman did on the day after the 2012 election, “Who cares what’s the matter with Kansas?”
had Krugman "not lifting a finger to do much of anything," as him luxuriating in his indifference, in his not needing to give a damn about Kansas.
And here he's the very picture of the "elite" we've left the talking to, and so who too is very much afraid of talking class. 
Populist argument hasn't so much been left to them / him, but hogged to themselves / himself, out of trepidation at the thought of what would happen if the populace -- if imbeciles -- claimed the argument. He's distrust /  dislike, of the ordinary Joe. To me, a case (against him, by Frank, maybe by some at Salon) is certainly building.


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