The politicians and the press, for the most part, will not cover poverty in this country. If you hold your breath waiting for that to happen, you're just going to die. -- Bob Herbert, former New York Times columnist, speaking at the Spotlight on Poverty Opportunity Forum.Herbert is right. Although 88% of Americans believe that poverty should be an issue in the presidential campaign, media coverage of it is pretty much limited to whatever hateful outburst erupts from a GOP candidate on any given day. Newt Gingrich got plenty of press for suggesting poor kids work as janitors in their schools. Yet, major news organizations didn't fall all over themselves racing to a crumbling school in a poor neighborhood to actually talk to the kids to find out what they thought. As Bob Herbert points out, there have been no hard-hitting investigative pieces on faulty plumbing or wiring in public schools. Just a lot of "wow, can you believe what Newt just said?" from the so-called liberal media, who just can't get enough of wingnut psychopathology.
Today it was Mitt Romney's turn to generate some red meat buzz. The MSM was faux-shocked when he allowed how he is not all that concerned about "very" poor people, because they're already protected by a social safety net. The point he was most likely trying to make is that you have to be literally in the gutter before qualifying for Medicaid, so where's the beef? Or, more likely, Romney is not concerned about the poorest of the poor because they have a tendency not to vote. The corporate stenography slant: OMG, what will come out of this guy's mouth next? The numbers, the polls, the numbers!
Since the Democrats have transformed themselves from being champions of the poor to groveling before Wall Street to get that all-important campaign cash, President Obama doesn't talk much about poverty at all. He is more inclined to characterize the indigent as the "struggling middle class", not the nouveau-poor. The backdrops of his campaign speeches always include well-dressed, well-fed "folks" right out of sitcom suburbia. He did not involve himself in last summer's progressive caucus "Poverty Tour" with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. When he does go to Detroit, it's to visit an auto plant, not an inner city neighborhood. When he causes massive traffic gridlock during his romps to Harlem, it's for canoodling with the slumming rich. Even the "cheap" seats at his recent Apollo gig went for $100.
(Actually, he did visit a ghetto last year. But it was Rio de Janeiro's notorious slum, as a photo-op during a "free" trade mission/family vacation with the wife and kids. You see, despite the fact that almost half of all American families are just a paycheck or two away from dire straits, poverty does not and cannot exist in the greatest superpower on earth).
|The Obama Version of a Poverty Tour: A Foreign Country|
It was not always thus. As recently as the 2008 post-election transition period, the Obama team dared use the "P" word. There is a whole page still up devoted to the subject of poverty. In those days, the president was a "lifelong advocate for the poor." President-elect Obama wanted to prevent prison recidivism by providing substance abuse counseling for ex-cons. The reality? The War on Drugs is bigger than ever, minority youths are filling what are increasingly private prisons at record rates and black unemployment is well above 16%. He promised to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011. Oops! He vowed to increase affordable housing for poor people. Instead, he cut neighborhood block grants and home heating assistance. He did this without the Republicans even asking. He offered.
Meanwhile, nearly half of all children live on the brink of poverty and one-quarter actually do live below the poverty level. Data released by the Census Bureau last year put about one-third of Americans at the poverty level.
Stephen Gray of Time wrote about last summer's pre-Occupy poverty tour --
"Poverty and poor people are an afterthought" said (Tavis) Smiley. "For many folks in this country – politicians – they’re disposable, they’re invisible.” Poverty rarely stirs powerful political forces. There’s no major Washington lobby for the poor. There are few major Congressional figures with the stature of Ted Kennedy or Daniel Patrick Moynihan who’ve made poverty issues central to their political identities. The term “poverty” has taken on baggage, evoking in some images of the Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” introduced by Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign. Earlier this year, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, released a study questioning the plight of the nearly 44 million Americans whom the Census Bureau categorizes as impoverished, but also own appliances such as air conditioners and TVs.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne was also a panelist at this week's poverty forum. "In politics" he said, "I think there are two obvious coalitions. One is when the middle class allies with the folks below them, and one is when the middle allies with the folks above them."
Since neither political party identifies with the "lower folks" Occupy has served to fill the vacuum. Republicans and Democrats both love to pontificate about aspiring to that American Dream of consumerism, property ownership and moolah. The OWS movement has stepped up to talk about social injustice. It has brought the homeless and poor population to public attention, and that does not sit well with the political elites of either Wall Street-serving party. Mainstream coverage has carefully and dutifully not concentrated on the poverty aspect.The camps have been broken up by paramilitary thugs, and so the extreme poor and homeless are back where they came from. Out of sight, out of mind.
(You can read the entire transcript of the poverty forum, as well as watch the video, here.)
Update: the president talked to struggling homeowners in Falls Church, Va today about how his plans for mortgage relief are better than Romney's. The median family income in Falls Church: $97,225. I rest my case.