Americans don’t like being confronted with poverty. By and large, we don’t want the reminder of the reality that many of us are only two or three paychecks away from financial ruin. Instead, we’d rather empathize with the wealthy. We want to relish our dreams not face our nightmares. That is the reason that political talk of poverty falls relatively flat, even among Democrats.
Democrats prefer to talk about the middle class, and who can blame them? Even during one of the nation’s worst recessions, it’s still a larger voting block than the poor. The middle class story is one of hope. The story of the poor is one of failure; not personal failure, as the objectivists would like to believe, but our failure as a society. There is something wrong with us, as a people, if we allow our fellow citizens to die for lack of life’s basic necessities. If there’s a God, she would certainly be a harsher judge of the fact that we allow children to suffer starvation or preventable illnesses, than she would judge people for their sexuality.
Republicans refuse to even acknowledge the middle class, preferring instead to speak to us all as if we are wealthy-in-waiting; as if we will inevitably buy the winning lottery ticket or invent the next pet rock. Obviously, this message resonates with many, especially those who forgo vegetables to buy lottery tickets.
Despite the fact that the poor receive little more than wayward glances from most Americans, they are everywhere. In 2010, 15% of people lived under the official poverty line, which is only about $23,000 per year, for a family of four. For those living just above the poverty line, life is often even worse, since help is typically only available to those living at or below that arbitrary line. For most families, I’d imagine that life would be a struggle making less than $40,000, or in many areas, $50,000. On Long Island, NY, one of the country’s most expensive areas, less than $75,000 provides nothing but the bare basics. A recent study found that one in four people consider themselves poor.
How do we address the needs of the poorest among us? For many nuns, their lives are founded on that very question. I would imagine as a nun, the frustration could be with most politicians, but their frustration is particularly focused on those who value the wealthy at the expense of others; those who address poverty as a personal failing, who literally want to steal from the poor and give to the wealthy. Those who have no compassion. Who are part of the modern Republican party as symbolized by its presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney.
Sister Simone Campbell, the spokesperson for NETWORK, a social justice group for nuns and the driving force behind Nuns on a Bus, is taking Romney to task for his views on the poor and his misleading and race-baiting attacks about welfare reform. From Think Progress:
“Recent advertisements and statements from the campaign of Governor Romney demonize families in poverty and reflect woeful ignorance about the challenges faced by tens of millions of American families in these tough economic times,” stated Sister Simone Campbell. “We are all God’s children and equal in God’s eyes. Efforts to divide us by class or score political points at the expense of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters reveal the worst side of our country’s politics.”
Those policies, Campbell told ThinkProgress, show that Romney “doesn’t have clue” about the struggles the poor face. “The fact is, his policies shift wealth to the upper class,” she said. “Yes, it hurts the middle class, but it devastates those at the margins of our society.” If Romney were to accept their invitation, Campbell said she would take him to places like St. Augustine’s in Cleveland, where food programs “provide a hand up” to the community’s neediest members. “He thinks they’re lazy,” Campbell said, in reference to Romney’s misleading welfare reform ad. “It is hard work to keep things together when you’re poor. He doesn’t have a clue. Let him talk to them, and maybe they’ll touch his heart. And his mind too.”
I only wish I shared in Sister Simone’s generosity of spirit and in her assumption that Romney has a heart to touch.
A little further up the Catholic hierarchy, they are fine with Romney’s anti-poor (as opposed to anti-poverty) agenda. Cardinal Timothy Dolan has stopped just short of actually endorsing Romney for President.