Candidates Ignore Poverty in Year 2000 Elections
Tallahassee Democrat, October 16, 2000
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, October 14, 2000
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 17, 2000
Albany Times-Union, October 17, 2000
San Francisco Examiner, October 18, 2000
Miami Herald, October 19, 2000
The absolute poverty of American presidential politics is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the politics of poverty. The two major party candidates couldn't agree more that the destruction of our most important federal program to help poor children, which absorbed all of one penny from each dollar of federal spending, has been good for all concerned.
Interestingly, it is not only the poor who have been left behind in the Age of Greed. According to the latest data, from 1986 to 1997 the real income of 90 percent of American families barely grew at all-- 1.6 percent over the whole period. By contrast, the richest one percent of families saw their income rise by 89 percent. This one eye-opening fact would probably generate much popular discontent if it were more widely known. In fact there is probably a winning electoral coalition that could be drawn from the aggrieved 90 percent, including middle class and poor people who have a common interest in policies that allow everyone to share in the fruits of society's labor.
But Vice President Al Gore is not about to make an issue out of this-- he wants to maintain the illusion that the rising tide of America's longest running economic expansion has lifted everyone's boat. And George W. Bush-- well, for him the rich still have too little. He wants tocut the income taxes of that fortunate one percent by $223 billion over the next 10 years. And of course neither candidate is elected primarily through a direct appeal to the interests of voters: there is the mediating influence of the people and corporations who pay for the TV commercials. Needless to say, most of this money does not come from families in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution.
The savaging of America's poor, including children, has another lesson for the election season: when you try to choose the lesser evil among candidates who lack a commitment to principles or program, you never really know what you bought until the evil has been done. Ironically, it was a Democratic president who got rid of "welfare as we know it," and threw millions of poor families to the mercy of a poverty-wage labor market. George W. Bush's father might not have pulled this off, because he would have been clobbered by many of the same people who stepped aside for Mr. Clinton's assault on the poor.
Can we spare some of that projected $4.6 trillion federal budget surplus over the next decade to reduce poverty? If not now, when?
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the "Experts" Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).