President Obama took advantage of a stop in La Crosse, Wisconsin on Thursday to get in on the fun of the 2016 presidential derby, telling an enthusiastic university crowd he's lost track of how many Republicans are running but that it's probably enough for "an actual Hunger Games. That is an interesting bunch."
Obama also stoked a regional rivalry while questioning the economic credentials and policy agenda of the "bus full" of contenders for the Republican presidential nominaton, particularly the state's conservative governor and as-yet undeclared candidate, Scott Walker.
We've seen what happens when top-down economics meets the real world. We've got proof right here in Wisconsin. There was a statewide fair-pay law that was repealed. The right to organize and bargain collectively was attacked. Per-student education funding was cut. Your minimum wage has been stuck in place. Meanwhile, corporations and the most fortunate few have been on the receiving end of hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax cuts over the past four years...
What happens when we try middle-class economics? Just across the river, it's a pretty interesting experiment. In Minnesota, they asked the top two percent to pay a little bit more. They invested in things that help everybody succeed, like all-day kindergarten and financial aid for college students. They took action to raise their minium wage and they passed an equal pay law. They protected workers' rights. They expanded Medicaid to cover more people.
Now, according to Republican theory, all those steps would've been bad for the economy, but Minnesota's unemployment rate is lower than Wisconsin's. Minnesota's median income is around $9,000 higher.
Obama went on to quote an editorial in their hometown paper, the La Crosse Tribune, declaring that Minnesota "is winning this border battle." The divergence in economic fortunes of the two states has been noted for the past few years, as Democratic majorities in both chambers of Minnesota's legislature have steadily implemented progressive reforms in cooperation with a Democratic governor.
Republicans, Obama said, are like your "Uncle Harry" who says outlandish things at Thanksgiving. "You say, 'Uncle Harry, that makes no sense at all.' You still love him. He's still a member of your family, right? But you've got to correct him. You don't want to put him in charge of stuff."
The president hastily added that "if there's an Uncle Harry out here, I wasn't talking about you."