This is one of those articles that you know right off the bat will be read different ways by different people. The headline-grabbing part of this article is the “4 out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives” zinger, but the other parts of the article make it clear that everyone is going to have a different interpretation about why that is.
The basis for a right-wing stab-in-the-back-legend is certainly there. The article says: “While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that people will attempt to represent that as an “Obama makes white people poor” argument…despite the first sentence of that quote, indicating that it is _still_ the case that racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty.
Not surprisingly, I prefer the left-wing take on this. The article quotes Washington University in St. Louis professor Mark Rank as follows: “Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need.” In the long run, that’s really the issue – whether poverty-stricken “normal Americans” can start to see that they’ve been sold a bill of goods about middle class virtue protecting them from poverty, which only fringe weirdos experience.
Recently, Barack Obama has been trying to resuscitate his economic policies by means of a sustained public relations campaign. If you enjoy drinking games, I would suggest to take a drink every time Obama says “middle class” while defending his economic policies. Middle class middle class middle class. It’s like no other classes exist in American society for him. He’s addicted to saying the words out loud, really.
There is a reason he uses that phrase so often. It’s because “normal Americans” have this idea that poor people are poor because they are somehow personally derelict. They still cannot imagine, even after all of what we have witnessed from 2007 onwards, that any “normal Americans” could possibly suffer poverty. It is not hard to imagine that, if there are “normal Americans” seen to be suffering poverty, many will opt to assume that a President of a different racial and ethnic category is probably the reason for it, because “normal Americans” under “normal circumstances” would never be poor.
Of course, these are not normal circumstances. That’s kind of the point.
We do need politicians to defend the middle class, because entry into relations of economic self-sufficiency, or at least an empowered interdependence rather than dependence, are valuable. But we also, increasingly, need politicians to speak up explicitly for _the poor_. We need to see them pushing back against the mythology of the lazy bum and the welfare queen. We need to see them dare to challenge the “normal Americans” concept of a middle class any hardworking person can join without any unreasonable barriers to entry.
Really, what we need are politicians who will dare say this out loud: the problem is not that whites are starting to economically suffer during the presidency of an American differentiated by “race” and “ethnicity” – it’s that all of us are now suffering, and that before it was only racial and ethnic minorities. White Americans are now humbled as those racial and ethnic minorities had long been, and we all must now choose to rise together.