Opinion | Radicals for Income Inequality

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I keep hearing that the Democratic presidential candidates are suggesting “radical” economic ideas. It’s not true.

The candidates are not seeking radical change with their main proposals — like Elizabeth Warren’s tax on wealth or Kamala Harris’s big anti-poverty tax plan. They are instead trying to undo some of the radical increase in economic inequality over the past 40 years. My column today makes the full version of this case and explains why keeping the version of the United States that we have long known — optimistic, future-oriented and more powerful than any other nation — depends on undoing extreme inequality.

Related: In an Op-Ed, Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders call for limiting corporate stock buybacks, which has become a major tool for further enriching the rich. I spoke to Schumer about the piece yesterday, and he put it in historical context: “In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, major corporations felt they had a responsibility to their shareholders, their workers, their communities and their country,” he said. “But in the last few decades the slavish devotion to their shareholders has skewed what they do.”

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I don’t expect to like every economic proposal that comes from Democratic leaders during the run-up to 2020. As I wrote last week, the idea of trying to take away people’s private health insurance in the name of “Medicare for all” — which both Harris and Sanders have backed — is a big mistake. For the most part, though, the policy part of the Democratic primary is off to a strong start.

The Northam fiasco

I have no idea whether Ralph Northam, Virginia’s governor, is one of the two people — one in blackface, the other in a Ku Klux Klan outfit — in the now-infamous photograph on Northam’s medical-school yearbook page. I do find his new explanation — that he is not one of them — plausible. School yearbook pranks including nasty ones, are common, and it seems possible that someone else placed the photo on his page.

But here’s the problem: Even if Northam isn’t in the photo, he clearly thought he could have been.

When the news broke on Friday, he didn’t immediately say some version of: That couldn’t be me, because I never would have appeared in blackface or a Klan outfit. He found it so plausible that he was in that ugly, racist photo that he initially said he was in it, before announcing Saturday that he no longer believed that he was. And in his news conference that day, he admitted wearing blackface on at least one other occasion. So regardless of who’s in that photo, Northam engaged in the same sort of ugly, racist behavior that the photo depicts.

Other voices: The political scientist Theda Skocpol makes the case for avoiding a rush to resignation and waiting at least a few days until the facts are clearer. I’d note that it’s a principle that applies across parties, whether the accused is Northam or Brett Kavanaugh. “I think there should be, in cases like this and [Al] Franken, a prompt process to nail down facts before the calls for career execution without voters,” Skocpol, a Harvard professor, wrote to me in an email this weekend. “There should be a process. And the university [where Northam attended medical school] has just launched one we could wait for.”

The editorial boards of the Virginia-based Staunton News Leader, Virginian-Pilot and Richmond Times-Dispatch have called for his resignation — as have dozens of Democratic lawmakers and liberal groups, Amanda Sakuma documents for Vox.

The New York Daily News’s Robert George, who was initially unsure about whether Northam should resign, now argues that “his contradictory responses and actions in the ensuing 48 hours have essentially settled that score.”

A sports diversion

The New England Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl title in 18 years last night, an unprecedented run in any major American team sport over the past half-century. Along with my colleague Sahil Chinoy, I’ve ranked the luckiest two-decade runs that any modern fan base — across the four major sports — has had. Boston’s current run takes the top spot, but New York in the 1950s, Pittsburgh in the 1970s, Los Angeles in the 1980s, Chicago in recent years and other cities appear on the list, too.

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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