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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday is about more than the final three years of his presidency. Its purpose should be to influence the next decade of American political life and begin shaping the post-Obama era.

For the first time since his early days in office, Obama has the philosophical winds at his back. He may be struggling with his approval ratings, but the matters the president hopes to move to the center of the national agenda — rising inequality and declining social mobility — are very much on the nation’s mind.

The days leading up to Obama’s best chance to redirect the country’s conversation brought two important signals that the tectonic plates beneath our politics are shifting. One was a striking Pew Research Center poll showing that on issues related to economic and social justice, Democrats and Independents are on the same page while Republicans find themselves isolated.

The other was a speech by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), at the Center for American Progress. One of his party’s sharpest strategists, Schumer is a pragmatic sort of liberal with a lifelong mistrust of ideologues. But his address was a populist rallying cry, calling on Democrats to embrace “a renewed and robust defense of government” in the face of the Tea Party’s challenge.

Democrats, he said, needed to make “the decline in middle-class incomes, the slow growth of good-paying jobs, and the idea that too little of our productivity benefits wages” central concerns in the coming years. Arguing that his party “accepted too easily the primacy of the deficit” in its approach to policymaking, Schumer praised Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the bane of the world of high finance, for being “one of the first to sound the alarm bell” on the deterioration of middle-class living standards. And he assailed the “plutocrats” who finance a Tea Party movement that often works against its members’ interests.

Schumer never forgets that he has constituents on Wall Street and went out of his way to say that Americans “don’t mind if incomes of people at the top go up 20 percent as long as theirs go up 3 to 4 percent.” But it says something about his political intuitions that he cited Warren and offered a tough critique of the economy’s shortcomings.

The Pew survey released on the day Schumer spoke ratified his instinct. It should also worry Republicans who emerged as outliers on key economic questions. Asked how much government should do to reduce poverty, 67 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Independents said it should do “a lot.” Only 27 percent of Republicans said this.

There was a similar contrast in how Republicans and everyone else viewed wealth and poverty. Pew asked respondents if the wealthy got that way primarily because they “worked harder than others” or because they “had more advantages.” Republicans ascribed wealth to hard work by a margin of 57 percent to 32 percent. But among Democrats, only 27 percent pointed to hard work, while 63 percent highlighted the advantages the wealthy enjoyed. Independents split in the same direction: 37 percent said hard work, 52 percent said the rich had more advantages.

As for why individuals were poor, 51 percent of Republicans attributed their status principally to a “lack of effort,” while 32 percent said poverty resulted from “circumstances beyond his or her control.” Again, the numbers were reversed for Democrats and Independents: Democrats picked the “circumstances” explanation by better than 2 to 1; Independents did so by a margin of about 5 to 3.

And on two specific proposals now dividing Republicans and Democrats in Congress — raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and extending unemployment benefits — the public, including many rank-and-file Republicans, sided overwhelmingly against the GOP: 73 percent favored the minimum-wage hike; 63 percent favored a one-year extension of unemployment benefits.

For Obama, now is not the time for defensiveness. His current difficulties owe less to Obamacare’s early problems than to a broader alienation fostered by the Republicans’ ability to block government efforts to ease widespread economic stress.

The president should certainly play for some immediate policy victories, notably on immigration reform. But his larger task is the one Ronald Reagan always kept in mind: to encourage a shift in public opinion that is already moving toward his ideas.

Obama will be judged, of course, by the state of the nation when he leaves office in January 2017. But his place in history will depend on what is happening in 2027 and beyond.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)


Twitter has restricted access to a tweet posted Monday by Rep. Matt Gaetz, in which the Florida Republican called for what commenters described as extrajudicial killings of protesters.

"Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?" Gaetz tweeted, joining Donald Trump and other Republicans in blaming anti-fascists for the violence across the country at protests over the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes, even as Floyd said he could not breathe. Autopsies have found that Floyd died of asphyxia.While Gaetz's tweet is still up, users have to click on it to see its contents. It's covered by a box that reads, "This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."

Democratic lawmakers called out Gaetz in response to the tweet and urged Twitter to remove it from the social media platform.

"Take the Gaetz tweet down right now @twitter. RIGHT NOW," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted Monday night. "The survivors of mass shootings are lighting up my phone. They are scared to death this will inspire someone to start shooting into a crowd tonight. They are right."

After Twitter took action against his tweet, Gaetz said, "Their warning is my badge of honor."

"Antifa is a terrorist organization, encouraging riots that hurt Americans. Our government should hunt them down. Twitter should stop enabling them. I'll keep saying it," Gaetz said in a tweet that he pinned to the top of his profile page.

Donald Trump has demanded that the antifa movement be labeled a domestic terrorist organization.

However, as factcheck.org noted, "There is no such official federal designation for domestic terrorism organizations." Even if such a designation existed, the site said, it would be "difficult or questionable" to categorize antifa in that manner because it is not an organized group with a hierarchy and leadership.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.