Sept 2005 posts

The poor and politics

 From Sept. 2005

We’ve recently heard people such as Michael Chertoff and Rick Santorum basically saying that the people in New Orleans were told to leave, and if they didn’t, they had made their own bed. The President’s mother insensitively opined that the evacuees had come from poor backgrounds and were enjoying better lives in the Houston Stadium. Supercilious Rush Limbaugh declared that the people in New Orleans should have saved some money for such a rainy day.

I’ve heard people defending the Bush family’s insensitivity to and neglect of the poor by saying that the Bushes were born rich and so don’t understand. It’s one thing for a Bush apologist such as Limbaugh to exhibit such ignorance, but in my mind it’s absolutely unethical for any political leader to not understand the plight of the poor. People from disadvantaged backgrounds often do not have credit cards, savings accounts, or cars. They don’t have people to lean on who do have these advantages. Furthermore, many have internalized society’s negative messages towards them and have grown up feeling hopeless, powerless, invisible, and unworthy. These people could not feel confident in their ability to hop in their SUV, fill it up with over $3/gallon gasoline, and drive to their second home to wait out the storm.

When one out of every 8 Americans lives in poverty (the highest rate of any industrialized nation), it is a moral and political imperative for our leaders to understand the physical and psychological environment experienced by many of the poor. Particularly since capitalism requires a lower class working for substandard wages, we at least owe the poor more than disdain.

We like to think we are the greatest nation because we have a handful of the richest people in the world. Perhaps a nation’s greatness would be better measured by how well it takes care of its less advantaged. 

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