Poverty & Clinton's Allies by Norman Solomon FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 4 Feb 1999 20:19:15 -0800 (PST)


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FWD Thu, 4 Feb 1999
CC Replies to author "Norman Solomon" <mediabeat@igc.apc.org>

http://www.sfbg.com/MediaBeat/


CLINTON ALLIES KEEP POVERTY OFF THE NATIONAL AGENDA

By Norman Solomon  /  Creators Syndicate


     During the past year, many liberal pundits have condemned
efforts to oust Bill Clinton from the White House. After
countless denunciations of Kenneth Starr and congressional
Republicans, we certainly know what those pundits are against.
But what are they for?

     The reality is grim. With few exceptions, liberals in the
mass media -- and in Congress -- are comfortable with the
existing economic order. And they refuse to challenge a status
quo that means dire neglect for millions of Americans.

     Today, in the United States, one out of five babies is born
below the poverty line. So, at this time of bountiful surplus,
why not declare war on poverty?

     To mainstream journalists and powerful politicians in
Washington, such questions are irrelevant. Savvy commentators
don't even bother to rationalize the national surrender to
poverty. And they don't object to the fact that President
Clinton's new budget keeps the white flag waving -- proudly.

     We hear plenty of selective declarations that the era of
"big government" is over. Applauded by major news outlets, the
president is Mr. Frugal for the poor and Santa Claus for the
military. His latest boost of Pentagon spending will finance
multibillion-dollar gift items like attack submarines, fighter
planes and an aircraft carrier.

     Days ago, when Clinton unveiled his budget, one of the few
prominent Democrats to complain was Paul Wellstone. Citing "a
great number of critical domestic programs that desperately
require real budgetary commitment," the Minnesota senator decried
"the broad and growing chasm that divides the wealthy and
prosperous from the majority of Americans."

     Wellstone's comments elicited media yawns and shrugs. The
New York Times reported: "It was a sign of the Democratic Party's
move to center on fiscal issues that his critique was an isolated
one and that the official party line of the day was that
Democrats stood for a smaller, smarter government."

     The virtual collapse of substantive dissent within the
national Democratic Party runs parallel to the baseline among
elite liberal pundits. They join with the rest of the
punditocracy in chanting that "the economy" is doing great and
America is enjoying marvelous "prosperity."

     Meanwhile, pundits across the media's narrow conservative-
to-liberal spectrum rarely mention that the Clinton
administration has gone out of its way to avoid putting the
subject of poverty on the nation's political agenda. When the
topic comes up, the avoidance is routinely explained as a matter
of political realism.

     According to the pundits who tout each other's sparkling
conventional wisdom, the American public would reject any push
for a federal anti-poverty crusade. That is supposed to be
political reality. End of discussion.

     But consider some polling data released by the Pew Research
Center last month:

     When American adults were asked about their preferences for
action by President Clinton and Congress, 24 percent gave "top
priority" to the idea of "cutting the capital gains tax." Fifty-
two percent gave "top priority" to "reducing federal income taxes
for the middle class."

     But what happened when Americans were asked to rank the
importance of the White House and Congress "dealing with the
problems of poor and needy people"? Fifty-seven percent ranked it
as a "top priority" -- even though such concerns have gotten very
little attention from journalists covering politics.

    What's more, the public response has been remarkably
consistent over previous years: In 1997 and 1998, the "top
priority" category for "dealing with the problems of poor and
needy people" was at the identical 57 percent mark.

     Is this question a fluke? Hardly. A year ago, the Pew
Research Center released the results of a different poll that
covered similar ground in more detail:

     * When asked for their opinion on whether "it is the
responsibility of the government to take care of people who can't
take care of themselves," 61 percent of Americans said they
"completely agree" or "mostly agree."

     * When asked whether "the government should help more needy
people even if it means going deeper into debt," 44 percent said
they "completely agree" or "mostly agree."

     * And when asked if "the government should guarantee every
citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep," 62 percent said they
"completely agree" or "mostly agree."

     Perhaps our eminent journalists have concluded that the
American people holding such views are out of step with the
American people.

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