Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Poor Have No Allies

I have told any number of gatherings that what the poor need most of all, are allies: people who will stand up for them and speak in their interests in rooms where they have no access. 

That means churches.

That means boardrooms. 

That means financial institutions.

It also means government. 

What has been clear throughout this entire debt ceiling/balanced budget debate is that the interests of the poor, the poorly educated, the poorly fed, the uninsured and the elderly, are negotiable. The moneyed interests of this country are not.

The faux crisis surrounding the debt ceiling has brought about the capitulation of those who have purported to represent the concerns of those who have no lobbyists, whose lives are in daily survival mode and whose prospects for the future are so dim it places them on the margins of our national life. The 'settlement' is a bi-partisan commitment to an economic ideology that has never worked in the history of our country. And it sends a message to those who are hungry, unemployed and ill prepared to participate even as consumers, that their existence is not a national priority. 

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's lament is not only understandable - I share it and a great number of Americans do as well:

"The odd thing about the Tea Party is that it uses Washington to attack Washington. This is a version of Hannah Arendt’s observation that totalitarian movements use democratic institutions to destroy democracy. (This is what Islamic radicals will do in Egypt.) Note that the Tea Party is nowhere near a majority — not in the House and not in the Senate. Its followers have only 60 seats in the 435-member House, but in a textbook application of political power they were able to use parliamentary rules to drive the congressional agenda. As we have known since Lenin’s day, a determined minority is hands down better than an irresolute majority."
"The Tea Party has recklessly diminished the power and reach of the United States. It has shrunk the government and will, if it can, further deprive it of revenue. The domestic economy will suffer and the gap between rich and poor, the educated and the indolently schooled, will continue to widen. International relations will lack a dominant power able to enforce the rule of law, and the bad guys will be freer to be as bad as they want. Maybe the deficit will be brought under control, but nothing else will."
In the halls of power, where noble policy can be enacted to make the lives of men better, to improve the lot of people whose participation in national life can, in turn, improve all of our lives, the poor have no allies. Those who would be allies, capitulated to those who would use the economy of the United States as a bargaining chip to keep them from throwing a political temper tantrum. They have forgotten that the economically vulnerable among us, can never be included in the country's national policy decisions without without their benefit enriching the rest of us. In like manner, they can never be excluded from economic policy without all of us being diminished. The allies of the poor have forgotten the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Tied together in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
This country cannot, it will not, emerge from the its economic disaster, until we realize that those who have been impacted by it the most, must be considered a part of the solution - not the problem. It cannot, it will not overcome until their interests are as non-negotiable as those of their fellow citizens of means.  This can't happen until the poor have allies in the halls of government. 

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