Blame GOP, Not Obama, for Poverty Surge

Blame GOP, Not Obama, for Poverty Surge

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Conservatives predictably wasted no time in blaming the surge in the poverty rolls in America on President Obama.

Fox News led the charge with its prediction that the nearly one out of seven Americans that are now classified as officially poor in the country could be yet another political woe for Obama and the Democrats in the November midterm elections.

But the blame for the poverty surge is nothing but political gamesmanship by the GOP. Obama’s policies and actions have had absolutely nothing to do with the 45 million Americans who wallow in poverty. In the last year of the Bush administration, nearly 40 million persons were in poverty.

The blame for that high figure, and the current even higher figure for the poor, can be plopped squarely on Bush’s and the GOP table. For example, they gave tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. They looked the other way when banks engaged in unethical practices by providing sub-prime loans that led to the housing market crash.

Meanwhile, the trend of sending manufacturing and farming jobs overseas continues abated. Nor does it help that major banks refuse to provide substantial loans to small and medium sized businesses.

It’s no accident that as the number of poor have geometrically leaped in numbers, the gap in wealth between the rich and the poor has widened to an unprecedented level.

The hardest hit in the poverty surge have been blacks and Hispanics. According to government figures, one out of four young adult black males are jobless. Joblessness for young Hispanic males is also in double-digit numbers. Young black and Hispanic males have been hit with a double burden beyond just the bleak economic picture. They are more likely to have a criminal record, less education and job skills, and lack transportation to get to jobs at malls, shopping centers, and retail stores in suburban areas even if jobs were available and offered.

Obama did not occupy the White House when the ranks of the poor grew. However, the real danger is that it could be yet another dagger pointed at the Democrats in the fall.

Whenever the economy is mentioned, the GOP will point to Obama’s stimulus package as a colossal failure and imply that the big price tag for it drained money and initiative from the private sector. It will be a tired rehash of the debunked and discredited conservative argument that government spending depresses, not boosts, the job market.

It’s an argument that’s been repeated endlessly since FDR pumped up government spending in the 1930s to mitigate the worst effects of the Great Depression. The GOP‘s counter to that is to point to the Reagan years when the economy boomed in the 1980s. But that boom also saw the first widening of the gap between the rich and the poor since the Great Depression.

The hard truth is that poverty has always been a political football. The reason for that is simple. The poor don’t have an active and viable political lobby to fight for their interests.

The sole exception to this was a brief moment during the 1960s, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. launched his Poor People Campaign. However, King was murdered and his dream of uniting the poor quickly fell apart amidst organizational and personal squabbles, as well as disorganization. A small band of anti-poverty groups and organizers did shout, cajole, and actively lobby for a major expansion of anti-poverty programs, funding, and initiatives to reduce poverty in the nation. They attained some success in getting funds and launching a few new programs, but it didn’t last. The anti-poverty crusade quickly fell victim to Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War ramp up, the increased shrill attacks from conservatives that the war on poverty was a scam to reward deadbeats and loafers, and the sharp budget cutbacks.

The only exception was the brief instant during the 2008 presidential campaign. Top Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards briefly mentioned poverty in their stump speeches, and then, with the arguable exception of Edwards, said nothing after that about fighting poverty.

In his remarks on the poverty surge, Obama was careful not to promise any new initiatives to fight it. “The most important anti-poverty effort is growing the economy and making sure that there are enough jobs there,” he said.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the GOP will pick at. It will claim that the jobs aren’t there precisely because Obama has shrunk, not grown, the economy. This is nonsense. But in a crucial election year with Democrats fighting for their political lives, more than a few voters will be tempted to believe it. The GOP will try and see to that.