Each nation and region has its own circumstances, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But we know that in countries which have successfully reduced inequality, progressive taxation has been an important tool, enabling governments to invest in good quality health care and education for their poorest citizens.
In the passage of the current Farm Bill, Congress literally just took $9 billion in food stamps from hungry and poor families and gave it out to big agribusiness giants in the form of more corporate welfare. President Obama could send the bill back to Congress and refuse to sign it until Congress properly funds the food stamp program.
Obama's plea, 'Give America a raise,' was the most effective applause line of the evening. Even Republicans were compelled to cheer. But his order raising the minimum wage on government contractors will help a few hundred thousand workers and add less than a billion dollars to household purchasing power. He declined to use other executive powers to compel contractors not to violate basic labor laws.
No politician these days gets any traction from the exploitation of bad news, unless he/she is currently out of power and, like the GOP, trying to work their way back in. Democratic presidents concerned with their legacy are not in that position; which is why all we can legitimately expect of any State of the Union Address these days is some sort of claim for progress in the immediate past, plus an equivalent case for more progress in the year to come. That, in truth, is most of what we heard from President Obama on Tuesday evening. Fine rhetoric well delivered, mildly progressive goals modestly pursued, and a strong statement of the continuing importance of American exceptionalism and American power. But just because a president cannot do a full and honest stock-taking of our overall condition, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't.