Monday, July 29, 2013

The Stupid Poor Of America

As we pointed out last Thursday, President Obama finally seems to have had enough of the perpetual obstructions of Republicans, especially on the issue of income inequality in America. If that wasn't clear before last week, it should have become so for most Americans during the President's interview with the New York Times, that was released over the weekend.

Add to the President's interview an exclusive Associated Press study, also released over the weekend, that made it even more clear: Income inequality and instability in America is - just as President Obama has said it was - the worst single problem we're currently facing today. According to that AP study, "Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives." That's a real blow to the long-held idea that hard work in America leads to success.

The numbers don't get any better when you dig into the study. As Ryan Cooper points out in Washington Monthly, the study's gauge of economic insecurity is defined as, "…a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent."

With those hard facts starting us in the face, and President Obama's angry frustration that Republicans continue to block any progress in fighting inequality, you needed to look no further than a group of Nebraska Republicans to understand the GOP's attitude that poor Americans must be poor as a lifestyle choice.

That feudalistic attitude was certainly on display recently when Nebraska Republican State Auditor Mike Foley gave a speech in conjunction with the right-wing group Americans For Prosperity. Foley was speaking about how the State Auditors office had found federal energy assistance checks, that are nominally for helping to pay the electric bills of poor people, used at places like Wal-Mart for the galling purpose of things like food!

It wasn't just that Foley hinted that he thought poor people were stupid. He came right out and said, "Now if you are a low-income person, you’re probably not managing your money very well anyway. Sorry to stereotype, but that’s true."

That 80% of America is now at some point in their lives, for more than a year, reliant on federal aid like food stamps means that Auditor Foley just called 80% of Nebraskans, and indeed 80% of Americans, stupid, at an event where his audience appeared to agree with him. It's not just a poor minority or racial problem, either. More than 19 million white Americans, according to the AP study, now make up the economically destitute at some point in their lives.

It's no mystery that Foley has since backed down on his comments, after Nebraska Democrats pointed out his classist arrogance. Foley's comments, and indeed the actions of Republicans at many levels of government today, reflect exactly the reason President Obama is so intent on fighting both economic inequality and inequality of opportunity.

Those comments also reflect the sad reality that Ana Marie Cox pointed out in The Guardian last week, and again in television appearances over the weekend: The "middle class" moniker so many Americans have used to define themselves for most of the last 40 years, "…is starting to adjust to sad reality: Americans don't think of themselves as "middle class", because they're not."

Of course, if you're a Republican like Mike Foley, you likely don't think those non-middle class Americans had some bad luck, or maybe lost their life savings because of the criminals on Wall Street. No, if you're like Mike Foley, those poor Americans are just too stupid to know how to manage their money correctly.