This blog was inspired by something sent to me by a friend, Bill, who has a great ear for the horrible, metal-rending noise created in the collision of political rhetoric and the recylable aluminum can which is American pop culture.
Bill wrote “This snippet from an essay by Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi describes the Palin phenomenon better than anything else I’ve read. The description of America as a ‘grasping consumer paradise we call a nation’ is particularly chilling.
‘Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she’s a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.
‘Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she’s the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV–and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.
‘(…) The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters.'”
The Sara Palin phenomena, the result of most of us distrusting those we suspect know more than ourselves, is distressing to me, but a distraction from larger problems. I’m angry because I think the reason we are not out in the streets protesting Palin as a VP candidate and other pressing matters is because we can’t separate need from want in this country. We won’t go to the trouble of providing all of our citizens with health care and don’t mind that African-American infants have a mortality rate more than twice that of European-American infants.
We have real trouble talking about poverty in this country. No one wants to admit that they are poor and few of us want to look at the fact that so many Americans (most figures quoted hover around 20%) have such low incomes when most of us have our attention turned to the executives making millions per year. The millions who make only a few tens of thousands attract little attention in a rich nation which is only rich for a minority.
There is even a serious flaw in the way in which we measure poverty and set a figure for the “poverty line” in this country. The calculation is based on a formula proposed by Mollie Orshansky in the Social Security Administration in 1963 and based on data gathered in 1955. Rebecca M. Blank a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute states that all other major economic statistics, from GDP to unemployment have been regularly updated in light of current conditions.
In my paltry attempts at research for this post, I ran across the Heritage Foundation’s attempt to explain poverty in America. This slap in the face of common sense and the attempt to bury legitimate concern for the poor has little more merit than its attempt to say that Americans’ impoverished conditions are partially ameliorated by their access to air conditioning. The following quote, by Robert E. Rector, Senior Research Fellow, gives you some idea of how the Heritage Foundation does its best to diminish poverty’s impact by assessing today’s poverty as yesterday’s affluence:
Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.
The threshold the US Census Bureau used in 2007 to determine the level of poverty for a household of two adults and two children was $21,027. How would your budget have to change to fit within this annual figure. Keep in mind that the US Census is using pre-tax dollars here (though, mercifully, it “excludes capital gains or losses”). By present measures, then, 12.5 percent of Americans, 1 in 8 of us, live in poverty. That’s over 37 million people. Look at the rate of poverty for African-Americans, however, and the statistic is a disaster: 24.5%, a rate almost three times that of non-Hispanic whites.
In this Presidential race we are being told that race shouldn’t matter—most of us have moved past even the memory of the laws of Jim Crow. And yet, how do we explain away our lack of concern for such a shameful divide in this country? Though you may not believe color matters anymore, having money and resources to better your life does matter. And money and resources are not distributed evenly among ethnic groups in this country. For the children in this nation and for justice in America, money is one measure we can all see and understand how poorly it shows us as an unjust nation.