Economics is at the heart of the political debate in the lead up to the presidential election. From the Tea Party to the Occupy Wall Street movement, there is a serious debate going on about allocation of resources. The Tea Party advocates for individual rights and less government regulation to prime the economic pump. Occupy Wall Street advocates for greater government regulation and intervention.
Fueling the debate is a sluggish economy and a growing awareness of the discrepancy of wealth in our nation (the top 1% controls 35% of the wealth…the next 19% owns 50% and the remaining 80% of the people own only 15% of the wealth.
When 80% of the population have access to only 15% of the nation’s wealth then those with the most need a diversion…lest the masses rise up. Case in point is the offensive by presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich.
Newt is rising in the polls in part based upon the argument that those who rely upon Food Stamps are an example of what is wrong with our country. Newt instead of looking at the root causes of societal inequality and its painful impact on people’s lives, chooses to blame the victims of the societal injustice.
Let’s listen to Newt: “The fact is if I become your nominee we will make the key test very simple — food stamps versus paychecks. Obama is the best food stamp president in American history. More people are on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history.”
I’m sure most people would prefer a fair and livable wage. But I don’t hear Newt providing a realistic plan for getting our nation to such a place. It would require a serious conversation about why so many have so little and so few have so much. In Newt’s circle such a conversation won’t get him elected.
Instead he and others like him, demonize those who struggle the most. A few statistics that illustrate the importance of Food Stamps in Oregon: 18% of our neighbors in 2010 used Food Stamps (788, 799 Oregonians). This was a 60% increase since 2008. Nationwide 13.6 million households rely on Food Stamps. Food Stamps simply supplement a family’s food budget. These dollars are spent in the community benefiting the local economy.
My great hope for 2012 is that the politics of diversion will not keep us as Oregonians and as a nation in having a serious debate about the root causes of societal inequality. Real people are unemployed and underemployed. Real people are going hungry and lack access to dental and medical care.
We know these people…they are our family members, neighbors, classmates, church friends, fellow citizens. They are ‘us’. And Newt’s politics of diversion will not keep us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes.