his column this morning is titled Friends With Benefits. It begins like this:
Government is not the enemy. Not always. Don’t believe that right-wing malarkey.
In fact, for millions of Americans down on their luck and at the end of their rope, they can quickly find that government is their last friend left. Governmental assistance can prevent the certainty of a hungry night and a homeless tomorrow. It can mean the difference between the comfort of stability and the ravages of poverty.
The column is chock full of data that proves the case. Let me offer this as an illustration, informing you first that S.P.M. is the Supplemental Poverty Measure just announced by the Census Bureau:
For instance, the report shows that if the earned income tax credit, a refundable tax credit for low-to-moderate-income workers designed to offset Social Security taxes and encourage work, was not included in the S.P.M., the poverty rate would jump from 16 percent to 18 percent. For children, it would jump from 18.2 percent to 22.4 percent.
Please keep reading.
The new report from the Census Bureau is full of powerful information, for example, that without SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the overall poverty rate would rise from 16 percent to 17 percent while for children it would rise from 18.2 percent to 21.2 percent. Blow then reminds us that Paul Ryan's Republican budget
proposed slashing nutrition assistance by $127 billion over 10 years..
There is something immoral in "balancing the books" on the backs of poor people.
Children without proper nutrition do not learn effectively, thereby trapping them in continuing cycles of poverty.
To cut support for nutrition so that extremely wealthy people can continue to receive tax breaks they do not need so that they accumulate money that does not lead to the creation of jobs that helps break the cycle of poverty is more than immoral, it is obscene.
What good this administration has done is not understood. Blow encapsulates that in this paragraph:
Obama’s stimulus package may not have provided the jolt to the economy that the country wanted and needed, but it no doubt kept a jobs and poverty crisis from becoming a catastrophe. The administration’s inability to effectively convey that point is its own catastrophe.
Except here I will disagree somewhat with Blow. I am not sure it is inability as much as it may have been in part deliberate. After all, were the American public to fully understand the positive impact of the stimulus, it would undercut what little support there is among the people at large for approaches like the current attempt to find a 'grand bargain" that focuses on austerity measures beloved of the rentier class rather than raising the taxes necessary to truly address the economic needs of the people and the nation. And it might fuel anger well beyond Occupy Wall Street to the point of demanding that those responsible for creating the crisis pay the costs they have imposed upon us as well as face additional penalties - financial and imprisonment - for the criminal wrongdoing they did.
Allow me to digress for just a moment. What we are seeing at Penn State was a mindset that is way too familiar in far too many cases. It is the attitude of protecting an institution by claiming the important thing is to look ahead and not backwards. We saw in in the abuse of children in the Catholic Church. We saw it in the actions of Leon Panetta running the CIA so that the American people never got an accounting of the abuses done supposedly in our name that have helped fueled recruitment of terrorists against us. We see it in the refusal of the administration to go after the criminal wrongdoings of its predecessor in so many domains, including illegally and immorally taking us into an aggressive war of choice. We are now seeing it in spades with the attempt to limit penalties and force minor settlements in the abuses of the mortage industry and the financial services sector that have created the world-wide financial crisis.
Of course the Republicans are oblivious to all this, whether out of ignorance or deliberate malice or sheer personal political ambition. To quote again from Blow,
The Tax Policy Center has found that Herman Cain’s now-famous 9-9-9 would cause 84 percent of families to pay higher taxes. Even After Cain changed his tune and said “if you’re at or below the poverty level, your plan isn’t “9-9-9, it’s 9-0-9,” an expert with the Tax Policy Center told NPR that “we’d still expect to see close to 84 percent of families being made worse off by the Cain plan.”
There are more details - from Gallup and Healthways that Americans' ability to pay for food, housing and healthcare is at an all-time low; from Brookings that population in extreme poverty neighborhoods where 40% of people live below the poverty line has risen by 1/3 (while the shift of income and wealth towards the top has accelerated.
And here let me note - one may view oneself as still in the "middle class" except increasing numbers of those who view themselves as such are seeing their economic status slide ever closer to the poverty line. If we allow the push towards austerity that some in the rentier class are using as an excuse to slash social programs - and here I include the idea of chained CPI for Social Security which is very much on the table - we will see the percentage of Americans in poverty continue to escalate.
We have a serious decision of what kind of nation we want to be. Blow makes the distinction between the Obama administration, as flawed as it is, and the views of those who would seek to replace it, noting "government can play a very positive role in protecting the less-well-off from the interests of the more-well-off" but only if the 'more-well-off" do not have near total control of the media, the legal system and the political process.
What the Obama administration has done is far better than what we would have seen under a McCain administration. That's true.
It is also insufficient. It is allowing this administration, and the Democrats in Congress, to be judged by an unacceptably low standard. That the Republicans would fail even that standard should be of no comfort.
Either Government has a positive role to play that protects the American people from real financial catastrophe or it serves little purpose except oppression - political as well as economic - of the vast majority for the benefit of the already wealthy and powerful.
Or are words like those of Blow already too late, and America can no longer be a place of promise as we continue to slide into the economic imbalance of a banana republic?