Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity

I’m back from my extended vacation from blogging. Having avoided the blogosphere entirely during my honeymoon, I have thankfully only caught bits and pieces of the last two weeks worth of news. Playing catch-up on the plane, I read the incredible cover story in the newest issue of Newsweek. It’s a sobering look at povery in America, yet it ends with this unintentionally hilarious proposal :

Beyond the thousands of individual efforts necessary to save New Orleans and ease poverty lie some big political choices. Until Katrina intervened, the top priority for the GOP when Congress reconvened was permanent repeal of the estate tax, which applies to far less than 1 percent of taxpayers. (IRS figures show that only 1,607 wealthy people in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi even pay the tax, out of more than 4 million taxpayers — one twenty-fifth of 1 percent.) Repeal would cost the government $24 billion a year. Meanwhile, House GOP leaders are set to slash food stamps by billions in order to protect subsidies to wealthy farmers. But Katrina could change the climate. The aftermath was not a good omen for the Grover Norquists of the world, who want to slash taxes more and shrink government to the size where it can be “strangled in the bathtub.”

What kind of president does George W. Bush want to be? He can limit his legacy to Iraq, the war on terror and tax cuts for the rich — or, if he seizes the moment, he could undertake a midcourse correction that might materially change the lives of millions. Katrina gives Bush an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China opportunity, if he wants it.

George W. Bush caring about the poor? That’s like saying Hamas has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach out to the Jewish community. It ain’t gonna happen, buddy.

George W. Bush isn’t going to do anything to stem the tide of poverty because he doesn’t understand poverty. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have to decide which bill to pay this month. He’s never had to memorize a bus schedule. He’s never had to live on ramen noodles and whatever food he can get for free at his shitty restaurant job. If he really knew what it was like to be poor, he’d understand that a few hundred bucks isn’t going to be enough to undo the damage of a dead-end job and crushing debt.

Tonight Bush gave a speech which many observers were saying would make or break his presidency. It was the standard laundry list of things he’d be throwing money at mixed with rhetoric that would sound impressive coming out of the mouth of someone who understood what it meant, but here’s how the President squandered his opportunity to actually do something to help the poor :

Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well.

That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.

So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.

When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets.

When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses.
. . .
It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity. It is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty. And we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.

Yeah, it’s just a bunch of recycled “ownership society” garbage from last year, polished up a bit so it doesn’t smell as much like shit.

I agree with the President’s stated goals, but let’s get real here. Poverty has gone up over the last four years, yet the President’s only plan to deal with a problem he’s been forced to address is to do the same thing he’s been trying to do all along? The problem here isn’t that there aren’t enough government incentives to help minority-owned small businesses, it’s that tens of thousands of people are living in makeshift homeless shelters. They don’t need chatter about home ownership, they need to know where the hell they’re going to get food, clean water, and a bed to sleep on. Telling a poor family with minimum wage earners that they should run their own business and own their own house sounds great on paper, but these patronizing ideas are about as constructive as telling someone with a broken leg that they should try to run a marathon.