Thursday, September 13, 2012

A War America Really Lost

     Illustration by Photo8 and used with permission.

One of the great wars that America really lost, and there is no debating it, was the War on Poverty declared by President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964.
by Charlie Leck

Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention set me to thinking about poverty in our nation.

“Oh, I was so poor! We were so poor!” That’s what Ann said during her speech to the delegates and a national TV audience. Hmmph!

That was Ann Romney’s message at the Republican Convention. It was an attempt to identify with real Americans and to tell them that “we” aren’t so different than “you.” Our kitchen table was an ironing board, she told the TV audiences. Our desk was a door on carpentry horses. We ate lots of pasta and tuna fish.

Wait a minute! Does anyone here know what poverty really is? By the standards above, I was poor during my college days, too. That’s what Ann was talking about. Listen, during my college days, I built book cases out of used bricks and planks also. Those days, going out to a movie on occasion was the best we could do. You took a pass on the popcorn. We ate lots of hot casseroles and the left-overs from them on the next day. Yet, we weren’t poor. An extraordinary future awaited us. A future filled with opportunity and hope.

That is not poverty! Do I need to describe real poverty? I don’t think so. I trust that my readers know real poverty – that status void of hope and opportunity.

Come on, Ann. Your daddy sent you to one of the finest private schools in America (Cranbrook). Mitt’s daddy was the CEO of American Motors and Mitt had been given plenty of the company’s stock. A flush future awaited you and you knew it!

As Richard Cohen said in a column in the Washington Post…

“Poverty, after all, is not about bookcases made of planks and bricks but about utter hopelessness. The poor do not have affluent parents. The poor do not have college degrees. The poor often do not even have high school degrees. The poor often don’t have a man in the house or, to be perfectly frank, sometimes the discipline and work habits to lift themselves out of poverty.”

Ann didn’t get it! But, we mustn’t be harsh on her. Most people don’t. There are some rich people who manage to understand – I think Teddy Kennedy did and so does President Obama (we mustn’t forget that he and Michelle both went to Harvard Law and they’ve become respectably wealthy over the years) – but most of those with incredible fortunes can’t really get it.

The Tea Party certainly doesn’t get it and it seems to be setting the agenda for the Republican Party these days.

Does anyone know how very many poor there are in America – this land of wealth and opportunity!

I don’t want to support candidates who don’t get it! I don’t want to support those who will turn first to entitlement programs to cut government spending. There are other places where we can begin. We can begin by resisting wars that get us into international political tangles we can’t begin to understand or from which we can’t hope to extricate ourselves. Then we can cut Congressional salaries and perks. Then we can invest in real programs that will create jobs and get Americans back to work. Then we can rebuild America’s education system so we don’t languor back in place 25 on the list of best educations in the world – educate our children with the best and they’ll find jobs all right. We can raise taxes on those (including me) who can afford it and then rebuild America’s roads and bridges and its transportation system, putting thousands and thousands to work doing it.

Poor Ann! Did she have to go without fresh blueberries and French Vanilla ice cream as well?

Someone take Ann for a walk through the Northside, will you? Perhaps I’ll ask Johnny Northside to show her around. As he does on his blog, he’ll show the lady what real poverty is. Someone tour her through the lands and villages of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s still a very poor part of America now. Someone drive her slowly through the “colored” neighborhoods of Mississippi towns and villages – and take her into the Mississippi Delta so she can see it isn’t much better than it was in ’64. And pay a visit to those areas of New Orleans that are still not rebuilt.

It was nearly 50 years ago (1964) that President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared a War on Poverty! Oh, boy! It spurred a whole rafts of federal legislation – Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, work study. In fact, America saw a decline in the rates of poverty. It didn’t get to where we hoped it would and it all tailed off and faded as the 70s rolled around. In fact, the war was lost! Poverty is no longer a part of the national agenda or a subject of national debate. It should be because poverty is still a significant problem in America. Great nations should not have serious, significant poverty.

Today, in Minneapolis, more than 27 percent of residents are below the official poverty level. More than 10 percent of Minneapolis residents are living in extreme poverty. Nearly 4 percent of state-wide residents are below that level. [City of Minneapolis (MN) Poverty Rate Data]

Ann and Mitt, they were star-struck kids in love and having a great time eating their tuna casseroles at their ironing board. They had friends at school and they had wealthy parents at home, providing them with a safety net. By God, I know what that’s about and I’m happy for them and I admire the love they obviously have for each other; but, come on, man!


Photo by Johnny Northside (John Hoff)
A common scene in North Minneapolis where guys
like Johnny Northside and the blogger of
North by Northside work to restore a sense of
community and pride. Both these guys could tell
us a thing or two about poverty. (Used without
permission but, perhaps, under the Fair Comment
and Criticism Clause of the First Amendment, but I
doubt it!).

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