Can you say fast five times? Poor people hold peculiar position in politics.
I have to admit it was sad seeing John Edwards for whom I had so much respect fall so dramatically short in character. I recall him surrounded by a group of African American youth in a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina making his official bid for president of the United States. Great, I thought sitting in front of my television falling for the handsome contender and thinking of New Orleans’ residents trapped not only by the storm, but by poverty.
The poor in America are not to be seen or heard of especially in politics. It is unwise for a candidate to claim they would do something for the poor and the homeless. The poor drain our coffers, and litter doorways, and betray the image we Americans have of ourselves. Most candidates ignore the poor, after all, they don’t make contributions, their lobbyists are out numbered, the media don’t acknowledge they exist until Thanksgiving and Christmas, and for the most part they don’t vote. Still, Edwards’, strategy was to champion their cause. He crossed the country reminding voters he was the son of a mill worker and spoke passionately about what he called the two Americas. Why?
He saw the gap between the poor and the middle class had been narrowed. Big business was chasing cheap labor off shore in a desire to be unburdened by healthcare, vacation, overtime and all of what American workers had fought for, and come to expect as employees. Middle class Americans were losing their jobs and their homes, their children were not going to be better off than their parents. Parents were housing adult children, and Edwards knew the middle class was terrified of becoming the poor, and the middle class vote.
President Obama focused acutely on the middle class. He hardly uttered the word poor during his campaign. This was surely a political decision. He allowed his background as a community organizer in one of the hardest economically hit cities in the country to prove his interest in eradicating the disparities between the two Americas. Inference would have to suffice. It was not politically useful to address issues regarding the poor especially being African American. It doesn’t mean he didn’t care about the poor, he just knew it wasn’t politically advantageous to include their plight in a speech. After all, he could be accused of being only interested in furthering his own race, put in a bubble with too black Al Sharpton, and Jessie Jackson, or be called a socialist.
Recently President Obama has called for cuts in spending that don’t balance the budget on the country’s most vulnerable citizens. That would be the poor, but Barack Obama has to be careful, the poor in the eyes of many are poor only because they are not willing to work.
Remember how brilliantly Ronald Reagan framed the poor in order to win his race for president.
His campaign created the now infamous welfare queen accused of squandering tax payers hard earned money, and even though it was a total hoax, the campaign against those people (poor and colored) was a success. It rallied the especially all white communities across the nation to join in and fight the redefined only claiming to be poor. Reagan’s strategy has been used over and over again since then. Even Bill Clinton used Welfare Reform as a feather in his cap to gain votes from independents, while allowing corporate welfare to continue unrestrained.
Today John Boehner, the speaker of the house accused by the Catholic Church of having one of the worse voting records in regards to helping the needy was caught saying the unemployed are mostly fat, lazy, and unwilling to work. Not exactly what Reagan said, but close. This has become the popular tone of the Republican Party. The unemployed are joining the poor in status, they have been targeted as unworthy of support from the government even if they lost their jobs to cheap labor abroad, even if they were once revered teachers, firemen and policemen.
Our Sacramento Congressman, Dan Lungren voted against an extension for long term unemployed, but he’s fighting to keep Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, and proposing cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, Children’s breakfast and lunch programs, school grants…..you get the picture, any program that might benefit the poor and middle class. It is the popular stance. It gets especially Republicans elected, and forces Democrats to adjust their rhetoric to exclude mentioning directly the poor, the needy, or the homeless. Fighting for food stamps and low income housing are viewed as a part of the liberal agenda.
If you’re in the Sacramento Valley and Dan Lungren is your congressman you might consider a vote next time for Ami Bera.
The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing. ~John Berger