Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wisconsin's political struggles must address growing poverty

Yesterday's Journal Sentinel was very distressing, no? Front page headline - more than 4 out of 10 kids in Milwaukee living in poverty. This is a moral scandal of huge proportions.

You know, when I read about the need for testing standards and teacher evaluations in our public schools, I try to imagine what it's like dealing with over-crowded classrooms in which so many kids are hungry. When I read demands that parents must be more involved in their kids' education, I wonder if those making those demands can even imagine what it's like to be a family living in poverty, trying to scrape by on whatever work you can get, if you can get any.

Sometimes it feels like a complete failure of imagination - and compassion. So many privileged people feel they are privileged only by virtue of their cleverness and ingenuity, not by benefit of their class or race background.

But we're not supposed to talk about race, right? The unmentionable skeleton in the closet, along with gaps between rich and poor, the mere mention of which is considered 'class warfare' - by the rich.

Here's another mark of our shame: more children in this country are getting health insurance, an increase of a million from 2008-2010. Guess what? Obama's health insurance reform legislation, the Affordable Care Act, is a major reason for this increase. In many states, eligibility has been expanded through Medicaid programs and the process simplified.

Our peculiar shame? Thirty-four states had a significant increase in the number of children covered. We are one of the few states (including Kansas and Minnesota) that saw an increase in the number of uninsured children.

Good job, Scott Walker and all you Repubs in the state legislature! I guess I would say that your failure of imagination - and compassion - is more than grave. You are jeopardizing the health and lives of our state's children.

So, once again, my friends, I just want to say this: this struggle for democracy in Wisconsin, for a decent political culture and a government responsive to the needs of our citizens, has to expand to put poverty at the top of the agenda. If solidarity with the poor, the unemployed, the most marginal of our people is not at the heart of recall campaigns and occupations and protests in Madison, we will be failing this same moral test.

These two stories yesterday present us with stark reality that is simply not acceptable, not in a state or a country that is only suffering like this because of skewed priorities and the shredding of the social contract. We are suffering budget squeezes not because we lack the resources to provide necessary social services, but because of an insidious spirit that has come to corrupt our politics over the past two decades, one in which so many of the wealthy, the powerful, and secure feel no sense of social responsibility for the larger community of which they are a part - whether they like it or not. Extreme individualism has becomes the most corrosive influence on the political culture right now and its results are not pretty. Actually, they are pretty nasty.

Meanwhile, on the other end is real human suffering which these stats show is also getting worse.

A moral crisis is most definitely what this is, especially if you have the courage to actually put a face to it, especially if those faces belong to our children.

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