Aren't we all in this recession together?

One searches for a record of the words, "We're all in this together," emanating recently from the lips of a national leader and one finds something from President-elect Barack Obama in 2008 regarding the need to bail out of the big banks and, as president in 2009, a feeble statement about Wall Street and Main Street being "all in this together." But that's about it.

Certainly we hear no such unifying cry from the Republicans, either.

As a theme, "We're all in this together" seems to be far more Chilean — because that's what it took to save the trapped miners — or British than American right now.

Last week, in his first speech to a Conservative Party conference as British Prime Minister, David Cameron called for a renewed spirit of shared sacrifice: "When we say 'we are all in this together,' that is not a cry for help, but a call to arms."

George Osborne, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, used the words as well: "The public must know that the burden is being fairly shared. That's why I said last year: we are all in this together. And I am clear — and the British people are clear — that those with the most, need to pay more."

Mr. Cameron added: "As we work to balance the budget, fairness includes asking those on higher incomes to shoulder more of the burden than those on lower incomes. It's fair that those with broader shoulders should bear a greater load."

Talk of working together and of fairness approaches political heresy in the United States. Republicans say no to almost every idea Mr. Obama and the Democrats propose. Democrats seem to have finally given up on bipartisanship. And both parties chickened out on resolving the matter of extending Bush-era tax cuts until after the mid-term elections.

While Mr. Obama, here and there, gives elegant explanations of what his administration has accomplished, and while he has of late taken some shots at the do-nothing Republicans, he seems incapable of duplicating what he did in 2008: That is, fly over the top of Washington and reach Americans where they live with a simple, unifying theme.

"We're all in this together," sufficiently repeated, might have become an anthem for the country's march out of this recession.

It is probably going to be a long march, or more like a crawl.

On top of all the other challenges faced in economic recovery, poverty has started to grow again to levels not seen since the 1960s.

Isabel Sawhill and Emily Monea, who have accurately projected poverty rates in their work at the Brookings Institution recently concluded that the poor will increase to 16 percent of the U.S. population by 2014. That could mean 50 million Americans living in what the government defines as poverty. The Brookings report further warned that "there is a strong possibility that the estimates we present are conservative" and that government will likely need to extend the social safety net to more Americans in the coming years.

Meanwhile, we have Republicans defending, as grand moral principle, an extension of tax cuts to millionaires and to families making at least a quarter-million dollars per year. We have seen few of the culprits in the economic collapse punished and, in fact, CEOs continue to be rewarded with bonuses after they put thousands of people out of work. We have the Republican candidate for governor of Maryland saying he will cut funding for public education — the key to getting children out of poverty — in order to take a penny off the sales tax in one of the wealthiest states in the country.

Democrats offer only mild counterargument to Republican insistence that we keep $700 billion in tax cuts for the rich.

And virtually no one in public leadership speaks about addressing income and wealth inequities; few ever mention the poor. None speak of sacrifice for the greater good or what Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia, calls "acts of collective compassion."

The deepest economic collapse since the Great Depression could have brought us together. Instead, we seem more divided than ever. And, as Mr. Sachs suggested in an essay in the Guardian last week, if a sufficient number of do-nothings are elected, the results of the mid-terms will mean more deadlock.

"American society has become increasingly harsh, where the richest Americans buy their way to political power and the poor are abandoned to their fate," Mr. Sachs wrote, adding that "the world should not expect much leadership from a bitterly divided United States."

The world should look to Britain. And to the Chileans.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM.

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