Recently Paul Ryan (WI-R) released a budget that purports to solve our long-term deficit issue. The plan while quite ambitious is extremely flawed. Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias have been bulldogs on the subject and has given Representative Ryan no quarter. The main thrust of the criticism has been that Rep. Ryan targets the poor to shoulder most of the burden of solving the debt crisis with no tax increases and literally two-thirds of his cuts coming from programs designed to help the most vulnerable among us.
What has been known to political junkies and is being revealed to the public is the fact that politicians in both parties routinely build their policies on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. The logic goes that poor people, black people, etc. have no powerful interest groups arguing on their behalf in the halls of Congress so, naturally, Congress constantly overlooks or fails to protect them in the Democrats and Republicans demagogue a bit against them because hey they don’t vote or lobby anyway. For the moment let’s put aside the extremely cynical nature of our political class, who we were told as children were be doing the business of the people and not merely aiding the business people.
What I want to explore is how we got to the situation that the poor in America are a mere after-thought to those in power, what happened to their voice? The decline of unions and the history of discrimination definitely contributes to lessened solidarity among the poor but even during Jim Crow when many unions wouldn’t have a large number of black constituents if any the poor still made their voice heard and where still at the center of American concern when crafting domestic policy. These poor people didn’t have lobbyist in the halls of Congress then as they don’t now but they did have the collective concern of ministers who passionately reinforced the Christian notion of charity and caring for the least among us. Ministers led Poor People Marches on to Congress to better bring home the often hidden effects of poverty in our nation. Reverends Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton then worked to publicize and prioritize the plight of poor people of all colors in a way that could not be ignored. In contrast today’s churches do not see themselves as advocates for the poor as they did in the past. While many do invaluable work in their communities on the whole the modern Church is much more likely to preach the “Prosperity Doctrine” to its parishioners arguing that earthly riches are proof of God’s favor. In short the modern American Church has went from being advocates and protectors of those who couldn’t politically protect themselves to complicit in the limiting of resources to them. Instilling in many parishioners the idea that the poor are not only poor due to their own failings here on Earth but also because God’s divine favor doesn’t shine upon them as it does on the wealthy. It is no wonder that the poor are often the targets of the demagogue and the wealthy when even the Lord’s messengers have denied them.
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