An Opinion on Alleviating Poverty Written Especially for the Tar Heel Tavern
In a Seattle Post Intelligencer article by AP writer Allen G. Breed about poverty, we are told that Americans are so overwhelmed by the very thought of attacking poverty that not only can they not fathom how government would begin to end poverty, but because of the government failures after Hurricane Katrina, they see government as the last place for the promise of a solution.
And do you know what I think? I think that they're right. The government in Washington D.C. today not only has no rational ideas about how to alleviate poverty, but the truth is, I really don't think it's a priority of the Bush administration or the "Rubber Stamp Republicans" at all. Just one overview of their agenda, their Budgets for the past five years [see this post for an example], and their legislative record will prove it.
Not long after Katrina struck, the Census Bureau released figures showing that the poverty rate had climbed for the fourth straight year. More than 37 million Americans live below the federal poverty level (defined as an income of $19,000 for a family of four), including 12 million children.
Five million of those children live in families that earn less than half the poverty level.
Jane Knitzer, director of the National Center for Children in Poverty, says it's not so much that Americans don't know that poverty exists. They just don't want to think about it, because it's just too hard.
"Very often people feel that there's no solution to poverty, that's it's intractable," she says. "It's a secret nobody wants to deal with."
Anyone who thinks alleviating poverty will be easy is deluded, indeed. However, if we stop believing that it can be possible and if we ignore the problem, we will become an America where being a low-wage or unemployed worker will mean an even further decrease in the opportunity for providing a basic and sound existence for many families.
We have to start somewhere.
It won't be easy. We've become used to one too many slick politicians giving us pie-in-the-sky promises about reform that will end poverty as we know it, yet today we still know poverty as the blight that it is on our respective communties - just as we did decades ago.
It won't be solved by partisanship. No one political party has all the answers.
The past five years have brought us great disappointment in our leadership. Tax cuts are given to the richest. Major welfare handouts go to corporations these days - many of them corrupt - and favors are paid back to well-connected lobbyists. America is divided - there is a wide "culture gap" and one side is constantly at odds with the other. Meanwhile, the poor are still demonized and blamed for their own poverty by ignorant people. There seems to be no strong moral voice in Washington these days to dispel the myths about those who live in poverty, and there certainly has been no balance in Congress. Conservatives rely on dated methods. Liberals rely on dated methods. No one will work cooperatively to find solutions. The minority party is routinely shut out of the American democratic process or simply silenced by partisan shenanigans and rule-changes when the majority can't win the traditional way.
In the AP article, there is an reason given for the alarming public indifference on the issue of poverty which I believe can be attributed only to poor leadership in America. [I had hoped this wouldn't happen.] What I see as a fairly poor excuse for bad leadership was somehow gleaned by Stanford University researchers Emily Ryo and David Grusky. They used data from Syracuse University's Maxwell Polls on Civic Engagement and Inequality, conducted shortly after Katrina. The way I see it, Grusky and Ryo are handing the mainstream media's coverage of Katrina the blame for telling the truth and getting a natural reaction from television viewers. The viewers, in this case, saw that the government's response under the leadership of President Bush to Hurricane Katrina was woefully inadequate.
From the article:
News coverage could partly explain the rise in denier and realist views. Some "did not take well to the liberal lesson that they no doubt regarded as foisted upon them," Grusky and Ryo wrote in their report, and so "the `call for action' story ... was countered by the equally powerful lesson that government intervention is all about inefficiency and ineptitude."
The mainstream media has become an entertainment tool, which is the opposite of what responsible journalism should be. That said, I think the mainstream did a damned good job on the Katrina coverage. They had tons more information - and much sooner - than the Bush administration did. The media hasn't dropped the ball on Katrina, and no one can deny that there was a poverty we'd not noticed before the hurricane that was exposed by the media after Katrina. If the public doesn't care about the poverty of the people from New Orleans or if they're overwhelmed by the very thought of it, we should give the creditshame where it is due - our political leaders. What are people supposed to think when they see their government abdicating their responsibilities? Why should the public care when they believe that their government clearly does not care enough about poverty to do something about it?
After seeing the hidden poverty of the Ninth Ward uncovered by Hurricane Katrina, who among us can we possibly turn our heads and look the other way - or worse, crawl into our shells? What kind of people are we? What kind of leadership does that reflect?
Public indifference isn't the media's fault. It's the fault of leadership who lack a moral compass.
Our best hope is to overturn the House and Senate in 2006 and elect representatives who will change the direction of economic policy in Washington, D.C. We need a better balance of voices in government which will then migrate to the mainstream media. In the past five years, I have learned that cable news media will simply not give the minority party a fair shake. What we are seeing now are the blunt failures of the Republican agenda coming home to roost and a nation looking for that one voice out there that will cause them to have hope that they might be able to trust their federal government to actually lead the way.
The Republican majority in the Legislative branch has been a Rubber Stamp for the Bush administration - and the Bush administration has not led on alleviating poverty.
Is it any wonder the public thinks it's a lost cause?
In the same AP article, a weak excuse is made for President Bush, saying that he was too pre-occupied with Iraq to have time to address poverty. To that, I say "Poppycock!" There have been many opportunities for Bush to include poverty in his agenda, but at every corner, he has simply neglected to do so. If he's too busy doing anything, it's taking care of his richest contributors - gifting them with contracts and political favors.
What we have here is a major failure of leadership. With the Bush administration. With Congress.
There was an article in last Sunday's New York Times written by Erik Eckholm about former Senator and 2004 VP candidate John Edwards and his focus on the issue of poverty.
This is his true passion, he said in an interview, and he thinks that voters may be more responsive in the coming years, both because the middle class is becoming less secure and because of a shared sense of fairness.
If you want to see a political leader who seeks new ideas and solutions to alleviating poverty, I recommend that you take a look at the new John Edwards One America Committee site. Don't miss the new One America blog. I'd love to see the Tar Heelers sign up at the blog and join the conversation. [They were talking about you Tar Heel Taverners on One America just this week!]
It will take a moral leader - a leader with innovative ideas - to steer Americans, famous for their short attention spans, toward remembering that, just as important as rebuilding the damaged Twin Span bridge from New Orleans to Slidell, Louisiana, we need to do the hard work of building real and lasting bridges out of poverty. See my post titled "The Helping Hand".
Bishop Jakes spoke about the Twin Span Bridge that connects Slidell, Louisiana to New Orleans which was partially submerged by Katrina and will need rebuilding. He called it a symbol of our need to rebuild bridges between our ideas, our perspectives, and our differences - we must build unity. "We can't multiply by dividing and we can't add by subtracting," said Bishop Jakes. If we rebuild that bridge with unity, it could make a real difference, letting go of the divisive illusion that we're black or white; Democrat or Republican; "right" or left." The true vision, he said is "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The media, who have been really good at hammering away at the Katrina story, would be well-served to have Senator Edwards as a voice on every talk show. Not to pump him for his Presidential aspirations, but to sit down and talk to him about the issue about which he is so passionate - alleviating poverty. People pay attention and develop the political will to see change when a political leader is willing and able to have a rational public conversation about an issue that, whether we realize it or not, affects all of us. I'm sick of seeing the same old faces on the political talk shows. It's no wonder that America is indifferent.