. . Oct. 15, 2008 . .
the poverty-hiding snow
in a remote village
they’re used to poverty…
… by Kobayashi Issa (circa 1815), translated by David G. Lanoue
update (October 15, 2008; 11:30 PM): Sigh. Not one word on the poor or poverty from Barack Obama in tonight’s debate — even when talking about the inadequacies of our education system.
follow-up (Jan. 29, 2011): In his New York Times column today, Charles M. Blow regrets that President Obama “did not include a single mention of poverty or the plight of the poor” in his State of the Union Speech this week. See “Hard-knock (hardly acknowledged) Life” (online Jan. 28, 2011). A disappointing habit, Mr. President.
I‘m writing my Blog Action Day 2008 posting a day early to give you a little time to work Poverty and The Poor into your answers at the Presidential Debate tomorrow. The last debate focuses on domestic policy and coincidentally takes place on October 15, 2008, the day that 9 thousand weblogs have pledged to discuss poverty. Because I’m an Obama supporter, I’ve heard from you and your campaign staff a couple times a day over the last few months, so I hope you won’t mind a little frank talk back at you. To be honest, I’ve been disappointed that:
- none of your email Campaign missives has mentioned your Poverty Plan or your continued commitment to fight poverty
- even worse, you have not mentioned the poor or poverty in either of the first two Presidential Debates, instead repeating over and over a middle class mantra; and
- unfortunately, the four-part economic rescue plan you unveiled Monday deals only with the Middle Class [see the New York Times article (Oct. 14, 2008); and the PBS ReportersBlog, Oct. 13, 2008]
Of course, I am well aware of your need to pamper, flatter and woo the Middle Class to win this election. And, I know that the poorest Americans are not likely to vote for John McCain, and probably had no savings or stocks at risk in the current big fiscal crisis. Nonetheless, the rapid rise of the price for food, gasoline and other necessities has made the constant crisis of poverty more intense than ever for America’s poor and near-poor, and they have no assets to dig into and no ability to obtain credit to tide them over.
At your website, you have an inspiring and practical Plan to Fight Poverty and Create a Bridge to the Middle Class — but it has been 14 months since your Speech on Urban Poverty, when you spoke about Bobby Kennedy, and 15 months since you uttered these words in Spartanburg, South Carolina (06/15/07):
”At the dawn of the 21st century we also have a collective responsibility to recommit ourselves to the dream; to strengthen that safety net, put the rungs back on that ladder to the middle-class, and give every family the chance that so many of our parents and grandparents had. This responsibility is one that’s been missing from Washington for far too long – a responsibility I intend to take very seriously as president.”
Since the general election campaign started, that “bridge to the Middle Class” seems like another bridge to nowhere for the poor. Therefore, besides talking again about our national responsibility to fight poverty, I urge you to have the courage to make the at least these two points taken from your Poverty Plan at the Debate tomorrow night:
Poverty Rising: There are over 37 million poor Americans [I bet there are even more today]. Most Americans living in poverty work, but still cannot afford to make ends meet.
Minimum Wage is Not Enough: Even when a parent works full-time earning minimum wage and EITC and food stamps are factored into their income, families are still $1,550 below the federal poverty line because of the flat-lined minimum wage.
It would also be nice to hear some specifics about raising the minimum wage and helping the working poor — perhaps a bit about Transitional Jobs, Career Pathways, Digital Inclusion, Transportation Access, and Connecting Youths to Growing Sectors. Of course, I understand how little can be squeezed into 90 minutes, but I’ll be expecting to hear a pledge to talk more about poverty in America over the few days remaining in your campaign. I know you can find the rhetoric to tie the fate of the poor to that of the middle class and the rejuvenation of our nation.
A Very Personal Note: Please, Barak, don’t think of me as merely another affluent Harvard Law liberal with a guilty conscience over the plight of America’s poor. During the two decades that I practiced law (working primarily for consumers and children), I was comfortably middle class and happy to pay taxes to improve the prospects of the poor in America.
Due to a chronic health problem, however, I have been “prematurely retired” from my law and mediation practice for almost a dozen years — and have lived at the poverty level (income and assets) the entire time. So, I know how hard it is to fill a tank or a cupboard these days, and how poverty limits options and can crush spirits. I also know how difficult it seems to be for my middle class friends to relate to the daily travails and limited horizons of the poor. We need a President — and a presidential candidate — who understands the predicament of the poor and includes them as full members of the American family.
So, Barack, I hope my Obama Finger Puppet isn’t the only Obama talking about poverty and the poor during the Presidential Debate on October 15. I wish you courage and good luck as the election campaign comes to a close.
s/ David Giacalone at f/k/a
update (October 15, 2008): More Blog Action Day coverage by us, here.
There was no internet when Master Issa walked the roads of 19th Century Japan as an impoverished haiku poet. If Issa had known about Blog Action Day 2008, and had a weblog, I bet he would have posted some of these poems, which have been translated by our Honored Guest Poet Prof. David Lanoue:
my poor dinner
in the palm of my hand…
for the poor
there’s not a spring
autumn’s first geese
to the poor town
this poor-soiled province
ain’t so bad…
all according to plan, yet
my poor dinner
first winter rain
oh great peony
this poor neighborhood!
even the poor
workhorses of Edo sleep…
in mosquito nets!
a poor sake bottle
for the God of Wealth
seven poor men
in a huddle
just for fun
chanting “Alms for the poor!”
clear fall weather