Monday, February 18, 2008

Paul Krugman: Poverty Is Poison

I see that some opinion-writers in the public spotlight are as tired as I am of the constant political excuse-making about the problem of pervasive poverty in the United States. Excuse-making only serves to facilitate the passing down, from generation to generation here in this country, of more poverty. In today's New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman informs us that we now "have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty":

...neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

Mr. Krugman speaks of the excuses used so often and so coveniently by myriad political leaders:

Some of these excuses take the form of assertions that America’s poor really aren’t all that poor — a claim that always has me wondering whether those making it watched any TV during Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter have ever looked around them while visiting a major American city.

Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.

But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents’ poverty are all too common.

If governments that set their minds to it can reduce poverty, why do we still have at least 37 million American citizens worried about where the money for their next meal or their child's next doctor's visit might come from?

I have been proud and happy to have supported John Edwards throughout his run for the American presidency in 2008 because I firmly believe that he understood what was most important for our direction, as a nation of determined moral citizens with a common and socially-just purpose. Mr. Krugman concludes his column today by saying:

To their credit — and to the credit of John Edwards, who goaded them into it — both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are proposing new initiatives against poverty. But their proposals are modest in scope and far from central to their campaigns.

I’m not blaming them for that; if a progressive wins this election, it will be by promising to ease the anxiety of the middle class rather than aiding the poor. And for a variety of reasons, health care, not poverty, should be the first priority of a Democratic administration.

But ultimately, let’s hope that the nation turns back to the task it abandoned — that of ending the poverty that still poisons so many American lives.

I can't heartfully support any political candidate who will refuse, through communicating their ideas and offering their plans, to make the end of Poverty a realistic goal for our nation. Too many leaders have framed the alleviation of Poverty as a goal for which only excuses have be given while, year-after-year, the goal has continued to go unrealized..and has been made worse .. and has been used again and again as rhetorical bait for future progressive votes.