A couple things on this, not entirely cohesive but maybe some points in here…
Global poverty is sexy. The One Campaign is sexy. All those celebrity concerts are sexy. Why is this relevant to domestic poverty? Because those African children on the teevee screen behind Bono are innocent. Those homeless tsunami victims are innocent. These are the deserving poor, the poor who are poor by no fault of their own.
The entire Democratic Leadership Council 1990s was about re-emphasizing the deserving poor / undeserving poor narrative. In it, the former are to be helped and the latter at best ignored if not outright marginalized for cheap political gain. They frequently come out echoing the most reprehensible, right-wing language frames. Witness the insufferable Mickey Kaus in the DLC’s Blueprint magazine in 2002:
My worry is that instead of building on these popular work-ethic principles, liberals will again try to fudge them by promoting food stamps, a welfare program that gives aid to people who work hard every day — but also to never-married mothers who stay home watching “Jerry Springer.” That’s a good way to alienate the voters, who’ve shown they are willing to pay taxes to help poor Americans as long as those poor Americans are willing to work.
Of course, this binary world of indigent welfare queens and hard-workin’ ‘Muricans is about as real as a unicorn running from a chupacabra. What matters though is the Horatio Alger mythology, so that people legitimately in the “middle class” (let’s call it 75% – 125% of median income) believe they belong there on merit while those below it believe they can get there through hard work. It’s simple logic after this: If you don’t make it, it’s your own damn fault. At the same time, the comfortable punditry defines a reality for us in which a $200,000 household is middle-class. ($200,000 puts you in the top three percent.) The social and economic priorities of the objectively rich are thus presented as the priorities of the “regular” Americans we all want to consider ourselves.
The deserving/undeserving poor narrative is exacerbated by the tendency of the right to use coded racial and gender language, and the Mickey Kaus wing of the Democratic Party has clearly proven itself comparably comfortable trafficking in this garbage. Within this framework, it doesn’t much matter that the entire TANF budget is $16.5 billion — roughly a priority equivalent of NASA. So even if Reagan’s mythological welfare queens do exist, they’re hardly a significant drain on federal budget priorities.
I’m too cynical about the American view of poverty to have been really bothered by this ad’s pandering to the “middle-class.” It’s what people think they are, it’s what people think they want to be. It doesn’t make it right, but I’ll admit I really wasn’t struck by the language or the tone.
What threw me instead were the lines counterposing the cost of the Iraq War to the oil profits reaped by the current Iraqi government.
The United States and a handful of allies invaded Iraq and killed anywhere from 80,000 to 150,000 to maybe a million civilians. Some 2.2 million Iraqis have fled their country, while 2.8 million have been displaced internally for a total of 5 million displaced persons out of a pre-war population of only 25 million. We continue to claim “no permanent bases” while building dining facilities for 6,000 in Nasiriyah and housing for 5,000 at Camp Falcon. Not to mention the largest embassy in the world with operating costs estimated at over $1 billion per year. As one writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wisely noted:
“Before you accuse Maliki of being ungrateful, ask yourself what George Washington would have done if the French had demanded permanent military bases in Boston and Philadelphia in exchange for helping America gain its independence.”
So no, I don’t want to hear American politicians whining that Iraq is selling oil at market rates and getting rich off it. It’s about damn time they did, since all our other allies seem to be. If the war costs too much, let’s leave. If we can’t leave for strategic, moral, or naked political reasons, find some way to pay for it besides begging handouts from a failed state. (Doesn’t that strike anyone else as unbecoming of a hegemon?) This tripe is as disgusting coming from the urbane center-left (here’s lookin’ at you Straw and Levin) as it is from the sociopathic right.
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