Friday, October 19, 2012

The Poor? Never Heard of Them

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (October 16, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

There are several issues notable for their absence in the presidential campaign.  Climate change is one of them.  Another one is that of poverty in America.  We have been hearing a lot of rhetoric about Helping The Middle Class, but virtually nothing about the poor, many of whom have fallen into that status from the middle class in the past five years.

Steve Lopez has an interesting column in the Los Angeles Times on the missing issue.  He suggests several reasons for the absence of any meaningful discussion of poverty by the candidates.

 If you've been following the presidential campaign, you might easily have gotten the impression that the poor no longer exist. The word "poverty" was mentioned once in the first debate between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Together, the two candidates made 29 references to the middle class. And in Tuesday's debate, I lost count after Romney reeled off more than half-a-dozen references in a single answer.

In the vice presidential debate, the word "poverty" got one mention. But Vice President Joe Biden and GOP challenger Paul Ryan dutifully followed their leaders, with 33 references to the middle class. ...

And yet, said Harris-Dawson, many poor people have an interesting thing in common.

They don't consider themselves poor.

"We actually came up with a list of people on welfare and went door-to-door, and do you know what? The majority of people said they were not poor," said Harris-Dawson, who thinks the candidates may be aware of this phenomenon.

He said people who were out of work framed it as a temporary condition related to the distressed economy or some other factor.

"Being poor has been so demonized. Being poor means being on 'Jerry Springer.' That's what it means nowadays, and who wants to be on 'Jerry Springer?'"

Yes, and it means that in 2012, with 46 million people living in poverty — 16 million of them children — candidates for president of the United States seem to think it won't matter if they pretend you don't exist.   [Emphasis added]

I suppose that's one good reason the candidates have shied away from discussing poverty:  the newly poor don't want to claim that status because that would make them one of the 47%.  But I think there's a bit more going on, and I think Avedon Carol has done her usual excellent job in sussing it out in a post having to do with  the purpose of voting.

 Something I think I've mentioned before, and that Stuart Zechman and I talk about privately, is that without the New Deal framework, social progress goes down the drain. It was that New Deal framework that made social progress movements possible, and that's why the arch-conservatives and Big Business banded together to destroy it.

And it's working. It is already difficult-to-impossible to obtain local access to abortion in most parts of the United States. It is not only difficult but damn-near illegal to protest in public. And even where you can legally protest, you get diverted, attacked, and arrested anyway. The relationship between your politics and your ability to obtain or keep a job is increasingly so strong that anyone who isn't on board with the arch-conservative program is terrified to make any statement that can be interpreted as economically liberal in the hearing of anyone who might make their employer aware of it.

These things add up, especially in an environment where "equality" means little more than an equal shot at no jobs.

And this is why, above any other issue, I am on board with Stuart when he says:

    Restoration of the New Deal framework is my priority policy agenda.

    This is because I am convinced that social liberalism's successes, e.g. civil rights, the successes of liberation movements (sexual, women's, etc.), intolerance with respect to security state regimes, etc., follow from the small-d democratic, economic and cultural empowerment of the majority of ordinary citizens. The history of the 20th century is the history of the balance of powers created by such a modern liberal-democratic framework, and the "culture of liberty-entitlement" that such empowerment produces in populations of otherwise reactionary-agricultural or labor-competitive citizens.

    Without the New Deal, or a New Deal-oriented governing framework, there is no liberal democracy, only oligarchy. Without liberal democracy, the cultural forces of popular reaction take hold in American populations, and social liberalism's creativity has little value in solving the problems faced by ordinary folks

 under plutocratic rule. Without liberal democracy, majority literacy itself is at risk. Bedford Falls' economy's culture produces the broad acceptance and (therefore) legality of privacy rights. Pottersville's economy's culture produces the broad rejection of and (therefore) illegality of natural selection being taught in public schools. One comes before the other. In post-19th century capitalist America, there can be no civil rights, and no dominance of individual liberty without first securing the economic rights and democratic power of the majority against "the old enemies of peace."

    Of all of the policy agendas I support, such as limiting executive power, expanding privacy rights, de-industrial militarizing of America, reforming the justice system, inhibiting poverty creation, etc, there is a preference order, with "Restoration of the New Deal Framework" being at the top. My vote will therefore reflect what I believe to be the priority policy agenda for movement liberals.

Yes, because the New Deal framework is fundamental to any other social liberty.


We know that the key features of the New Deal, the ones still left, are "on the table" as far as the president, his administration, and entirely too many Democratic members of Congress are concerned.  Oh, they talk about "tweaking" Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but it is clear that is only the first step in the drive to dismantle them (although I guess the favored euphemism is "privatize" them).  Federal programs which provide even a minimal safety net for the poor (Food Stamps, WIC) are slashed or eliminated as both sides fight to increase the defense budget so as to keep defense contractors fat and happy.

And those of us who object are marginalized, quite literally kept far away from the seat of power (hence the Pett cartoon above) and arrested for exercising the most basic of First Amendment rights.

It doesn't appear that there is much we can do this election cycle, but come January it might be time to put our comfortable shoes on.

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Blogger Charles said...

Am reading Michael Hiltzik's book on the New Deal. Fascinating how Roosevelt was generally written off as a shallow, amiable dunce by the left and as a danger to the Republic by the right. Hoover even explored options for preventing FDR from running.

8:43 AM  

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