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mitt romney

The P Word

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Over at the blog of my august employer, Taqua Thrasher calls on President Obama and candidate Romney to talk more about poverty:

By now you’ve heard the statistics: 1 in 6 Americans living at or near the poverty line, 45 to 50 million Americans using Food Stamps, 30 to 50 million Americans without healthcare (prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act), and on and on and on.

These numbers are a devastating indictment of the character, the will, and the policies of this nation. A deeper examination of them reveals that 25% of our children (1 in 4) live in poverty; that places us second in the world among developed nations.

We are issuing a challenge to the two men vying for the title President of the United States. […] Say the word ‘poverty’ in your nationally televised convention acceptance speech, and make eradicating it your top policy priority.

But why is “poverty” such political poison? Why do politicians talk as though it’s the middle class that truly has it rough?

A few weeks ago, a friend and I took an exploratory shot at an answer. Some threads we came up with:

  • We do not think highly of poor folks. There are strong currents of thought, both explicit and implicit, that blame impoverished Americans for their own suffering. Meanwhile, we associate middle class status with virtue, hard work, and self-reliance.
  • People living in poverty are less likely to vote; they don’t represent a valuable political constituency and it’s unproductive for politicians to address their concerns.
  • Even if they do vote, almost all poor people identify as “middle class.”
  • Poverty has no place in our national identity. We are supposed to be a beacon of prosperity shining out into the world, so a 25 percent child poverty rate causes us some pretty unpleasant cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance does not make good politics.

There is probably more to the story, and I’m sure I’m not the first to raise this question. If you’ve seen others address it please send their work my way.

Photo: A squatter’s bed in a shuttered Detroit auto plant. 2008.

The Black Vote and Its Discontents

From Democracy Now, a former Florida GOP official by the name of Jim Greer claims that his party explicitly discussed keeping minorities away from the polls:

“I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.” He continues: “They talked about not letting blacks vote … and minority outreach programs were not fit for the Republican Party.” His comments come amidst Florida’s standoff with the Justice Department and civil rights groups over a voter purge that critics say particularly targets people of color. In recent weeks, at least two top Republican state lawmakers — state Senator Glenn Grothmann in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai — have predicted that restrictive voter ID laws will help Republican candidate Mitt Romney win their states in November.

We know that the voter ID craze is illogical—fraud at the polls is almost nonexistent. Because of that, I’ve often wondered why Republicans are so intent on instituting laws that “protect” against this phantom threat. Is it a conspiracy to undermine civil rights? A lot of people have suggested as much, but that just seems so evil to me. I wonder: how much of it is just fed by the all too common ignorance of people with good intentions?

To answer such questions, we’d need to enter the mind of the elites at the highest echelons of political power. Since we can’t do that, glimpses like the one above become extremely important. We’ll never know exactly what our leaders are thinking and plotting, but if we manage to assemble enough of these wisps of insight, maybe we can piece together the picture.

In the case of voter ID laws, that picture is not looking too pretty.