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Jim Webb’s 2007 SOTU Response Presaged Income Inequality Debate

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The topic has taken root now that the economy seems to finally be recovering from the Great Recession but real wages haven’t budged much for the vast majority of working Americans. On Jan. 23, 2007, it wasn’t on too many political radars. The crash of the financial system, after all, was more than 18 months away.  

But there it is in Webb’s response: “The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it’s nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.” It’s a line that could be a Democratic talking point now, or even one from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union earlier this week.  

Also worth noting about Webb’s seven-year-old address? It’s a pretty barbed, smart, confident speech. He references Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower for context. He talks about his family’s own military service. And he says succinctly, “It would not be possible in the short amount of time to actually rebut the president’s message, nor would it be useful.” Instead, Webb, a decorated Marine with a Marine son seeing combat in Iraq at the time, laid it out to the White House when it came to the war:  “We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called to pay in defending it.”  

It was a pointed speech by a serious man.