Next Tuesday, Bob Dylan releases an album of songs once recorded by Frank Sinatra.
I won’t be lining up for the disc. I have Dylan records and Sinatra records, but Dylan sings Sinatra? He wants $11. I’ve only got $10.
Besides, Dylan’s promotion of the record is more interesting than the work itself. He recently gave an interview to AARP, the former American Association of Retired Persons, and talked about the economy.
“The government’s not going to create jobs,” he said. “People have to create jobs, and these big billionaires are the ones who can do it.”
That sounds like the 2012 Republican platform. In fact, Dylan is playing a more complicated and interesting tune.
“Some wealthy billionaire who can buy 30 cars and maybe buy a sports team, is that guy happy?” he asked. “Is there more contentment in that than in giving it here to the inner cities and creating jobs?
“I’m not saying they have to,” he added. “I’m not talking about communism. But what do they do with their money? Do they use it in virtuous ways?”
We’re now firmly in the 2016 presidential election cycle and it’s clear income inequality and the middle class — issues reflected in Dylan’s questions — will dominate the debate.
Job growth and $2 gas aside, most Americans remain fearful and disillusioned about their economic prospects. A slowly rising tide hasn’t lifted all boats, or even most of them. Real wages are stagnant, wealth creation has stalled, good jobs remain hard to find. Americans’ spending power has been stuck for two generations.
Democrats have been pointing this out for years, prompting Republican complaints of class warfare. Now, though, the GOP’s leading figures are starting to sound like damn hippies. From John Boehner to Ted Cruz, the lagging fortunes of the middle class have become front-burner concerns.
Still unanswered, of course, is how the country might actually address the issue. Democrats have offered a laundry list of middle-class benefit bumps — a higher minimum wage, help for college — while Republican solutions are even more vague.
Neither party seems likely to break the pattern. Yet middle-class frustration is real. Without solid jobs at good wages, class envy may define the 2016 campaign.
Enlightened capitalists once understood the link between middle-class jobs and political health. Perhaps Dylan can sing about that on his next album.
I’d line up for that.