A few years ago, watching TV with my teenage son, I was struck by a point that financial-advice guru Suze Orman made to an audience of college students. What assets in America, she asked, are undervalued? Certainly not stocks, nor residential housing. The prices for both of those had skyrocketed. No, she said, pointing to the audience: You're the asset that America is still undervaluing. And she was right.
New figures came out at the end of march showing that income inequality in 2005 reached the highest levels since the 1920s. By coincidence, presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani that same day declared his support for the flat tax and received the endorsement of Steve Forbes. That the current front-runner for the Republican nomination could believe it was in his political interest to call for an end to progressive taxation says a lot about how far his party has to go in recognizing one of the central economic and moral challenges of our time.
Liberalism is deeply rooted in American soil, so much so that in the years after World War II, many historians and social scientists regarded the liberal project and the American civic creed as more or less the same. The proposition that each of us has a right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" remains as good a definition as anyone has ever come up with of liberalism's first principle and America's historic promise.
CAUTIONARY NOTE. I am not yet convinced that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama can overcome the obvious obstacles to their election. According to the latest New York Times/CBS poll, if the election were held now, Americans would choose an unnamed Democrat over an unnamed Republican by a 20-point margin. Nonetheless, both Clinton and Obama have run behind in polls first to John McCain and now to Rudy Giuliani. Are Democrats so sure the country has put sexism and racism to rest that they want to bet the future of the country on that proposition? I wish I felt confident that was true. Perhaps as we get closer to next February I will.
The strange thing about the debate in Congress over a deadline for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq is that the objective political interests of the two parties are the reverse of their stated positions.
Republicans are facing a disaster in the 2008 election if the Iraq War continues unabated. But if the Democratic Congress ties the president's hands and forces a pullout, the Republicans would have an excuse for the war's failure, and their party could move on to focus the 2008 election on other issues. If GOP leaders could act on pure political self-interest, they would be secretly encouraging just enough defections by their own members of Congress to pass legislation requiring a pullout.