If I were President

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

It’s easy to say what we want our elected officials to do. We want them to magically balance the budget while giving us universal health care. We want to pull out of Iraq, while magically making the people of the country resolve their differences so we don’t have to feel guilt at what we’ve done. We want them to perform magic, while absolving ourselves of any responsibility in understanding the issues, paying for the reforms, or otherwise putting ourselves out in any way, other than an occasional rant.

When I was critical of John Edwards, Ralph pointed out Edwards’ work with The Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, as well as pointing out that Edwards discusses poverty when he’s out on the campaign trail–something other candidates do not.

Ralph’s point is good, in that we as a nation don’t deal well with poverty. If we want to point fingers of blame about New Orleans, we have to point them at ourselves as much as the Bush Administration because New Orleans was a disaster in the making long before Katrina happened. As long as we had our ‘colorful southern city’ where we could have our Mardi Gras party, and as long as the affluent in New Orleans had areas like the Garden district, no one really cared exactly how poor and how vulnerable most of the folks in New Orleans were. No one cared that the kids were failing in schools, violence was on the upswing, that flooding was inevitable.

Even now, we really don’t care that the same could be said about most inner cities, or poor rural areas.

We don’t care about the poor, because we think that being poor is a matter of choice rather than one of circumstance. After all, look at all that’s been accomplished by people who began poor but pulled themselves up by their ‘boot straps’ and ‘made something’ of themselves.

This is not the land of opportunity it once was, though. With the internet and global communication, you can’t walk away from your past and never look back. Most folks can’t fail in school and still become a success like in the old times. Heck, you can barely make a living even if you have a college degree.

With each new generation, it becomes that much more difficult to pull oneself out of poverty. There are the internal factors working against you, including the ‘clan’ that pushes the members to behave a certain way, do certain things, and above all, keep your dreams to the level of your brothers and sisters. There are also the external factors, such as access to a good education regardless of where you live.

I admire Edwards for not giving poverty a slide, and that’s a vote in his favor. I also admire him for actively working towards solutions to poverty. At the same time, though, kicking off a think tank of well born liberals, where evening sessions are focused on ‘bringing about poverty awareness’ isn’t necessarily going to do more than take the place of the Ladies Society of the past–where women would gather to gossip as they made baskets of hand outs to give to the poor in the neighborhood, and thus absolving themselves of any further responsibility.

Heck, if I were somewhat of a long shot candidate, possibly running against a black and a woman, I’d want to emphasize my nurturing, social skills, too. What better way to do that than to create a center to discuss poverty, while you wait for the next election?

This isn’t to insult Edwards or imply that this is what’s on his mind, because, yes, he is bringing this up as an issue; from what I can see of the reception of same, not a popular one among Democrats. Time for the Dems and Republicans both to remember that as the poor class grows–and make no mistake, it is growing as the middle class shrinks–it makes a tasty voting bloc, too. Perhaps other candidates should take a page from Edwards and jump onto the Poor Train. However, it’s a fast ride, and if they’re not willing to stick with it, then I don’t need to hear their hypocrisy.

Talk is big, so if I were President, what would I do to help combat poverty?

First, I would implement universal health care. People often times stay in dead end jobs because at least they have medical coverage on the job. Additionally, the number one reason for bankruptcies in this country are medical problems that have left horrendous bills people can’t pay.

More than just the economic factors, if you’ve never lacked for health care coverage, you don’t know what it’s like to have this wearing you down on a daily basis. More importantly, have you ever gone into a free clinic? If you have, then you know what I’m saying: how you’re treated as a ‘person of no insurance (no consequence)’ can last beyond the treatment you receive.

We’re the only so-called First World nation in the world that doesn’t have universal health care, and we should be ashamed of our selves. We should also be a little more forward thinking, because the way things are going, everyone except the very wealthy will be without health insurance, or decent health coverage, in less than twenty years.

What else would I do?

I’d raise the minimum wage, but more than that, I’d enforce a standard of work so that companies such as Wal-Mart, in its rampant greed, cannot establish procedures that force long-term employees out the door. People should be able to count on their jobs, and though things can go wrong, and companies close or have to cut back, when a company is doing well, and the employee is doing their job, they shouldn’t have to worry about the shenanigans of their company just because they have enough seniority to make something a bit more than minimum wage.

Shame on us for our pattern of giving corporations and business a free pass for inhuman treatment. We were raised on a level of propaganda that makes anything that came out of the Kremlin seem amateurish in comparison. “Well, a company needs to keep its costs down or it might have to close its doors and then where would we be?” “Companies have to be competitive.” “Nowadays, you should be happy just to have a job.”

Why do we believe this crap? Even after hearing about the obscene profits these companies make, we still give them every advantage to take advantage of us. Why is that? This leads to the third area I would work on to help the poor: Campaign reform.

Damn it all, I don’t want the best Congress money can buy. If you think that Democrats are somehow isolated from the lobbying pressures and campaign fund raising pressures and the like, you really do need to buy that swampland in Florida. We have to make it so that the vote matters more to these people than the coins dropped into their campaign chests, and the only way to do that is campaign reform. In fact, I should list this first; at a minimum, I list this in parallel with the two above.

You know who the biggest contributor to Bush was in the last election? MBNA. Now, do you know how much Bank of America/MBNA/Citibank and the like charge in interest rates for the poorer of the credit card holders? Close to 29%. Twenty nine percent!

In 2005, Congress decided that the poor are deadbeats and caved into the credit industry, making it more difficult to achieve a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Yet at the same time, there was absolutely no move to clean up the credit card industry, not to mention the housing loan and other financial institutions. The reason why Congress did this is because it was, and until I see otherwise based on actions, it’s still the best Congress money can buy.

A fourth area I would emphasize is education. We don’t need to spend money on allowing Intelligent Design into our schools, and to hell with tax breaks for the wealthy to send their kids to private schools. Let kids get their religion in church, and their status at the debutante balls. What we need is to ensure that every kid has the opportunity for a safe, sound education–good enough to get them into any college they really want to attend. A kid can’t learn in a school where he or she is afraid of getting beat up or knifed; where the bathrooms are disgusting; and the teachers don’t care because they have too many kids and not enough time to do the job right. Kids should want to come to school because, at a minimum, it’s a safe haven for them; a place of hope.

Beyond the grade and high schools, no one should be denied a college education because they can’t afford such. I’ve long felt that we need to start rewarding folks for doing well in schools, including ‘forgiving’ some of their school loans. We can’t do that, though, if states attempt to sell off or misuse funds marked for such.

Bottom line, to start helping the poor is stop thinking of them as some new species of human and stop considering them as cheap, disposable labor that is encouraged to consume cheap shit, doesn’t need to be well fed, well paid, well schooled, or live in a home that’s above sea level in an area surrounded by water. Can we do that in meetings and town halls? I doubt it. The only way we can do that is in the courts and in the legislatures and in the White House, filled with people we put there to do a job, not further their political careers.

It’s going to take more than words. It’s going to take campaign promises that are kept because we watch our elected officials’ butts and make sure they keep them. It’s also going to take the American people realizing that we’re judged by how we treat the lowest of us, and accordingly, that makes us shitty.

After a period of nearly unprecedented political corruption, Americans of all political persuasions are anxious to believe in the efficacy and honesty of government. The knock against the Democrats in recent years has been that our leaders bend with the political wind and practice expediency over principle. The Democratic Caucus in the House needs to coalesce around these issues and stand up to those who oppose them. If the president, as he said the other day, wants to “work with Democrats,” great. And if there are Republican lawmakers who have the good sense to join you in fighting for these initiatives, that’s great too, but bipartisanship for show is bunk, pray you avoid it.

What he said.

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