Why is income equality not taking flight as a mobilizing political issue? It seems to be the topic that everyone talks about, but it never catches on.
Writer Nicholas Lemann asks, "Is there a politics of inequality," in a useful review of the wide spectrum of academic and "ideological" musings on the gap between rich and poor. What's interesting is that so many academics and members in good standing of the left (Tony Judt) and right (Charles Murray) believe strongly that income inequality is very real and very corrosive to America. But, of course, they disagree on what to do about it.
What's interesting is that Mitt Romney doesn’t even see the problem or acknowledge its existence. When asked why people are focused on income inequality, Romney responded, "I think it's about envy." As usual, President Obama is much further along in understanding the problem and setting forth solutions. The problem is that his vision of restoring fairness and opportunity in America — through tax code changes, deficit reduction and new investments — is going nowhere. Even his own party’s hierarchy doesn't seem particularly energized by the problem or the solution.
There's no question that most political elites are insulated from the economic realities faced by many struggling Americans. But the fact remains that our society continues to be more stratified and unequal than at any time in the last 80 years. There is plenty of political kindling around this issue; it may be the fire next time.