February 4, 2007....headline...
The truth about poverty: Bad choices, not a bad economy, are to blame
Poverty in America results increasingly from the choices that people make, not our economic system's supposed shortcomings.
Given a list of eight factors and asked to choose the one most responsible for the continuing problem of poverty, 24 percent (a plurality) of respondents in the poll chose “too much government welfare that prevents initiative.”
Those two viewpoints.....those who are poor have only themselves to blame....and government relief programs to aid the poor make the poor even lazier and more dependent....have been prominently on display during the worst economic downturn in my lifetime. It has been a national disgrace. But.....it is nothing new for the United States.
The ideology of success—the notion that anyone could make it with enough hard work—was widely promoted in Gilded Age America. An aggressive proponent of the success ideology was Russell Conwell, a former minister who helped found Temple University. His lecture “Acres of Diamonds,”.... was his own route to riches. He delivered this pep talk on the joys of instant material success on the national lecture circuit more than 6,000 times, most often during the 1890s. By the time of his death in 1925, this speech had reportedly earned him $8 million.
Here is a familiar sounding theme from Conwell's motivational speeches from over a hundred years ago.....
"I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich....The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. Let me say here clearly....ninety eight out of a hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them. It is because they are honest men.....I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins....is to do wrong...let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings...." (Excerpt from Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States")
It should not be surprising, then, when we hear similar opinions about the poor today, during what many people are calling our second Gilded Age.....during a time period when the disparity between rich and poor in America has never been so vast.
"leeches", "takers", "hammock dwellers", "the 47%, who won't take personal responsibility for their own lives".....etc.etc. Cuts to SNAP, unemployment insurance, and other government-sponsored safety net programs have been all the rage in our new Gilded Age. Solomon was right.....there isn't anything new under the sun.
Yes, if one only looks at the surface "debate"....red state v blue state, GOP v Dem, liberal v conservative, left v right.....you will only garner a surface understanding of what really divides our nation. The authentic fight is, and always has been, Rich v Not-Rich.
The reason we hear so many conservatives railing against the poor today, blaming the poor for being poor, is because the American rich, as they have done all through our history, are fighting tooth and nail to protect, and increase, their own riches....in the wake of our worst modern economic downturn.
In late 2008, early 2009....it seemed obvious that new regulations and tax increases would be inevitable to right the economic ship the rich had capsized in their orgy of greed.
But as I mentioned, the fight in America has always been Rich v Poor, and so the Rich orchestrated a five year-long message which focused almost exclusively on two points: government was too big and the poor have no one to blame but themselves. That message.....outrageously....was spread by an odd group calling themselves, the Tea Party. Taxed Enough Already and "taking back our country" were the fig leaves with which they communicated to shield the intended purpose of their wealthy sponsors.
Again, nothing new here. It's as old as our nation.
So....make no mistake.....all the Palinese, the frauds of Fox, the contempt for the poor heard on AM radio, the nonsensical and ahistorical screeds from Tea Party leaders...the rich-serving propaganda from mainstream "journalists"....all the "we're coddling the dependent poor" from Republican elected officials.....all of it....is as old as our country.
Conservatism exists to maintain the privileged status of the nation's wealthy. It has always been so. It will always be so. Further, the not-rich of America will never decisively win that never-ending battle.
But the not-rich deserve to know what the real fight is all about.
Now you know.
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