Thursday, April 07, 2011

Two Different Wars on Poverty

Half a century after LBJ, America is on the brink of another "War on Poverty," this one not to ease the misery of millions but make them pay for tax cuts for the rich and comfortable.

Behind all the budget gabble is a reversal of Johnson's "Great Society" that provided a safety net for the poorest Americans with Medicare, Medicaid, Federal aid to education and, not incidentally, civil rights, all of which led to prosperity until a decade ago when unregulated greed began to undermine it.

Now, those most responsible for an economic meltdown are proposing to reverse it by going back to policies that led to the Great Depression. In his first Inaugural, FDR railed against "the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish" and proposed a return to "ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."

Republicans may be leading the charge backward, but the failure is bipartisan, a concentration on numbers with little discussion of those values behind them.

When the game of shutdown chicken ends, the President, instead of coaxing Congress to play nice, will have to set out an agenda that is faithful to the legacies of FDR and LBJ and give Americans a choice between those humanitarian traditions and Tea Party selfishness.

From the Johnson era, there is a clue to the direction Obama should take. In the 1960s, the Great Society was flourishing until LBJ became mindlessly enmeshed in Vietnam and squandered his legacy, both fiscally and politically.

Now, amid reports that the White House is remaking its national security team, would be the time to rethink our enormous investment in the Middle East and find ways of reducing that instead of making budget cuts on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans.

We don't know what pouring more money into roiling Arab countries will do for American security, but we do know what redirecting much of it back home would do for our social and political well-being.

No comments: