The War on Poverty?

by Toya L. Johnson

2012. Its election year. The people who voted in the Iowa Caucus have already chosen Mitt Romney, as the heir apparent. Mr. Romney is currently being considered for the Republican (Conservative) nomination for the Office of the President of the United States. Mr. Romney is what is called the “front runner” and well on his way to the nomination. Of course Mr. Romney has been running for the Office of the President to the United States for the past four years. Since 2008 when he lost out to senator McCain to be the Republican presidential contender.

As it is only January the American public has to look forward to ten Long months of listening to politicians make promises to appear as though they, the politician, are in touch with the “average” American. For a news junkie like me it will be an Extra Long10 months. Months of dueling sound bites on the evening news and political polls announcing who is up and who is down depending on the day. Months of reporting political mud slinging all in an effort to show how despicable or unqualified your opponent is and how ineffective they are or will be as President of the United States, or Governor, Senator, Representative. Whatever the case may be.

For the next ten months politicians will try to convince voters that they are in touch with”ordinary” Americans. Those God fearing, hard working, patriots. Working hard to achieve the American dream. The ideal American. Americans are still God fearing, hard working patriots, but some Americans may now be a little more disillusioned with the idea of the pursuit of American Dream.. Work hard and you will get ahead. Not always. For some the dream is dead and they may find themselves in a position they thought they would never be… Poor and living in poverty.

Republican presidential contender former Governor Mitt Romney at a recent televised campaign appearance spoke about his connection to the working Americans as he in an attempt to empathize with the average American. Mr. Romney alluded to the fact that he “knows” what it is like to receive a pink slip” (unemployment slip) during these hard economic times. I found this notion from Mr. Romney to be rather ludicrious as he is a millionaire and the son of a millionaire. What type of hard ships has he had to endure when it comes to the inability to pay your bills, pay your mortgage, or buy food. This and other statements made by Mr. Romney is pandering to the electorate. All in order to receive their votes come November. Mr. Romney the modern day Mr. Smith goes to Washington. An idealistic outsider, an ordinary American just trying to make a living.

Then there is President Obama. President Obama will work to convince the American public that he is working hard to put people back to work. It is a daunting task. However He, President Obama, is right there, in spirit anyway, with those who are unemployed and have been in some cases for years. He is compassionate and feels the pain of unemployment, hunger, homelessness.

However President Obams’s case would have been better served if he were not photographed in recent weeks frollicking on the beach, soaking up the nice Hawaiian sun. Christmas and New Years holiday in Hawaii ..a paradise of sorts.

It’s January and so President Obama is back in Washington,.D.C. Hopefully feeling refreshed and ready to return to work. The daily grind. The hustle and bustle of the work a day world. Making decisions that will impact all those hard working Americans with whom he so readily feels a connection.

You see…President Obama is under a tremendous amount of “stress” so he needed a vacation. He needed time to rest and recuperate and spend time with his family. Someone should have informed President Obama that “his” stress is small when compared to those in America who are poor and to which going on a fun filled family vacation is as foreign to them as a trip to the moon. But President Obama has a job for now. He can afford to run and frollick. He should enjoy it now because he may soon be joining the ranks of the unemployed come this November. Election Day. But for now President Obama has .. three hots and a cot (an old military expression). Meaning he has three hot meals to eat and a bed in which to sleep.

The poor are those ordinary Americans who have to make choices between what is a priority, a necessity or a luxury. Purchasing food so that they and their family members may eat, using what ever money they have to buy gas so that they can get to work if indeed they are fortunate enough to be employed or underemployed.

Or perhaps an individual may chose to pay a utility bill and hope and pray that their family may be able to eat in the coming days.

Or the real possibility of eviction or foreclosure as an individual/families may not have the finances to keep a roof over their heads.

In my estimation politicians like Mr. Romney and President Obama have not had to live in what I call the “real world.” The world that is becoming all too familiar and acceptable. The “real” world where people are not really living but merely surviving and existing from day to day. The poor do not get to take lavish vacations from “stress.” Too many Americans right now are coping with unemployment as unemployment numbers remain high. An estimated 8.6 percent of the population is unemployed according to current government statistics. (The African-American community still has a higher percentage of people unemployed than the national average.) The “real” world of unemployment and underemployment which has been going on for years as the recession/depression continues. Only in the last 3-4 years has the economic recession/depression begun to effect the middle class.

Those middle class individuals who may have believed that they were insulated from the “real” world of the poor and have now only begun to live in this “real” world.

For once I would politicians like President Obama and candidate Romney, Gingrich,Paul, whomever the Republicans choose to nominate for the Office of the Presidency have a real discussion about the plight of the poor and the greater issue of chronic poverty in America.

In my estimation neither President Obama or the chosen Republican candidate have the fortitude to go to an economically disadvantaged area, sit down for any length of time and discuss the real issues of poverty and being poor in America. Inadequate housing, poor nutrition, dangerous living environments, and a poor educational system that has all but forgotten them. The United States is a nation of plenty of which we are constantly reminded. However politicians have yet to have a meaningful discussion about poverty and the poor. So the cycle of poverty continues unabated.

President Obama and other politicians remain steadfast in their failure to discuss issues of poverty and the poor. The poor are rarely if ever mentioned. Right now politicians are constantly commenting on making life better for the middle class. The middle class need tax breaks. Americas wealthy should pay more in taxes all for the benefit of the middle class. In the past there were three “classes” of people. The poor, the middle class, and the rich. However at this time in American history. The United States of 2012 now has a new “class” of people:The Old Poor, the New Poor and the Rich.

My definition of the different classes is as such: The “old poor” are those people in America who have worked hard their whole lives and have yet to even dream about really obtaining the American dream. The dream: A life of living in the suburbs, having 2.3 children, and the white picket fence. The “Old Poor” may have minimum wage jobs and may see no way out of their current predicament. The “Old poor. The chronically poor to whom President Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ to his friends, spoke about as he proclaimed in 1964 that there is a War on Poverty. This official War on Poverty has yet to be won and the political system in America has no intention of utilizing the weapons to win the war. A better education system, affordable housing, and a living wage and not a minimum wage.

The “new poor.” are those individiuals who may have considered themselves “middle class” but due to recent job losses (unemployment and underemployment) within the past few years. They are now the “New poor.” Their savings are or have been depleted. Their American dream of home ownership has all but gone by the way of foreclosure. And they now may now have to depend on public assistance, through unemployment insurance, food stamps, and government housing.

Another class of individuals are those who were lucky enough to have been born “rich” whereby they do not have to wonder if they have enough money to make it through another day. They need not worry about having the necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter. Then the third class of people are those who have been poor, they will continue to be poor, even after politicians have made all the promises they intend to make to ensure that all Americans may pursue the American dream. They are the “old poor.” Poverty for them is nothing new.

However as this is an election or re-election year for some politicians, the poor will now become visible. Politians will no doubtedly make the obligatory visit. (President Obama’s administration officials like to report that the president is “touring” a local area. For example, an area that may have just encountered a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado).

Ordinarily,during a visit with the poor the politician enters into their “I feel your pain” aspect of his or her political campaign.

During the “I feel your pain” visit the politician will walk around the area, shake hands, hug those in need… all the while attempting to convey a glimmer of emotion demonstrating genuine concern for the plight of the poor. The “I feel your pain” campaign usually involves the politician going to an ecomically disadvantage area in order to communicate, face to face, with those in need. The poor. These are usually the same politicians who will visit the poor every 2-4 years or sooner, if their polling numbers should make a decline, to ensure the poor know that they have not been “forgotten” As the politician is working ever so dilligently so that they, the poor, may have a better quality of life. The “I feel your pain” campaign also conveys the message that they, the poor, have not been forgotten and prosperity is right around the corner.

Poor folk just need have a little Hope …as Change is Coming.

For new candidates, those who are just beginning their politicallives, they may, in order to get elected, utilize the “I feel your pain” visit as a tool and/or means of letting the voter know that they, the poor, will not be “forgotten” once they,the new candidate, takes office. They, the new candidate, will be different from the previous candidate. As the new candidate proclaims that he/she will work hard for all constituents in their district. He/she will make a difference in the lives of the poor.

The “I feel your pain” visit is a wonderful election tool as it serves two purposes. The politician tries to convey to the voting public his/her concern and empathy for others. Genuine concern for their well-being. The “I feel your pain” visit. Live and in living color… and ready for the 5 o’clock news.

The second purpose of the “I feel your pain” visit is an experience that the candidate may use at various political campaign fundraising dinners. You know the dinners where people have to make a hefty monetary donation to the politician’s campaign. The candidate may report on how they, the politician, are”concerned” about all Americans and that their administration will work or has worked dilligently to make America prosperous for All Americans.

It’s all the same rhetoric. Whether the candidate is Democrat, Rebuplican, Independent, Libertarian, or a Tea party member. The speeches are empty promises but ultimately the status quo will remain the same. There is an old adage: The more things change the more they remain the same.

At this time, 2012, Americans have only two viable options or candidates when it comes to selecting the individual who would be President of the United States. Democrate or Republican. President Obama or Gov. Romney. It really does not make any difference. 1964 the war of poverty was announced. Flash forward to 2012 and America has made very little impact in improving the lives of the poor nor War on Poverty.

In my opinion Americans would be better off if we had a third option. the option c.C for None of the above. If Americans had this option of casting their vote for none of the above maybe there would be fewer politicians in Washingon., D.C. and more actual work being done. Work that would actually make a lasting impact on lives of the poor and those living in poverty.

However, when all is said and done political campaigns will come and go. Politicians will come and go. Elections will come and go. Different issues will be discussed among the American public. These issues may also come and go.

Wars have also come and gone: The Civil War, World War I, and World II, the Korean War, The Vietnam War, the Iraqi War.
The only war that appears to and will be never ending is this nations War on Poverty.

For those of you who would like to gain more information about the poor and poverty in America should go to the internet. Type in the search engine Tavis Smiley @ PBS (Public Broadcasting Station). In the videos Mr. Smiley and Dr. Cornell West went on what they termed “The “Poverty Tour.” The video excepts on the internet site will allow you to view the week long programs that occured in the previous weeks. There is a scheduled program to be broadcast on our local Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) – KACV. The series will air for three nights. January 16-18, 2012. Check your local listings for the time. Mr. Smiley’s daily show is carried on KACV every week night.

In closing: There is an educator employed as a teacher in one of Amarillo’s middle schools. It should be Americas mantra:

“Poverty is a vicious cycle. Education is the only way out.” – Ms. Grove, Educator


Copyright 2012 – Toya L. Johnson. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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