Winter Winter Moon
Ever since Reagan, and with the witting aid of William Clinton, the poor have receded from the public debate. Oh, yes, you see comments about inequality like the 99% of the short lived Occupy movement and even occasional woe saying from a pundit or two, but otherwise the Appalachias and deep Souths and poor urban cores have gone missing. But only from the news and from positive policy making. (Yes, it’s true, they did appear at Farm Bill time as the expensive food stamp item and in the grim socialist nightmares of Tea Party folk asleep in their beds — the spectre of Obamacare, but only in these negative ways.)
We have been and are in a time when the economy and its travails have become the focus of political conversation. Can we afford that war in Afghanistan? That war in Iraq? Social Security? Medicare? Medicaid? Can we afford the deficit? All these questions trump a larger question, the one of the social compact, the unum in E Pluribus Unum.
In America the question used to be not first about what we can afford, but what we need. Even the most benighted president of recent times, Richard Nixon, proposed the earned income tax credit which would have assured a stable annual income for all Americans. My wife, a physician, and I have agreed for a long time that single payer health care is the only responsible and just course for America. Every person should be able to find a job, health care, housing, food and a decent education.
Why? Because we’re all in this together. If the argument of simple justice doesn’t persuade you, look at our demographic future:
“…the United States of 2050 will look different from that of today: whites will no longer be in the majority. The U.S. minority population, currently 30 percent, is expected to exceed 50 percent before 2050. No other advanced, populous country will see such diversity.” the Smithsonian, The Changing Demographics of America.
This means that our doctors, teachers, business leaders, union organizers, federal, state and municipal workers and politicians must come in significant numbers from within the majority population composed of the combined Asian, Latino, Black, and Native American communities.
Think about it. This means the children of these communities need not just adequate schools, but good ones. And to learn in those schools those children need to be well fed and healthy. Too, they need a stable home in which their parents model for them the kind of work habits our complex economy demands. Their parents can only provide that model if they, too, have jobs.
This is good news. It means that by shaping an America that knows its self interest lies in the fortunes of all its citizens we can ensure our common future and therefore help lift each other toward a just nation.
It means we cannot afford to have hungry, sick Asian children at their school desks. It means we cannot afford to have Black adults who lack jobs with decent wages. It means we cannot afford to have Latino citizens who can’t find housing in which to raise their children. It means we can no longer allow native reservations to be among the poorest regions of our nation.
It takes no political savant to imagine some of the policy directions that flow from these realizations. Yes, the particulars may differ among people of good will, but these are the kind of expenditures around which we need to build a national budget, around which we define first what we as a nation need, then look to public policy to help us decide how we can afford it.