Storm leads to liberal dose of the shame game

September 21, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

Lawdy, lawdy, there's po' folks in America. Did y'all know that?

Apparently we didn't. Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, some have felt compelled to remind us ignorant souls that, yes indeedy, poverty still exists in America. And, yes indeedy, many of those impoverished are black.

And most definitely, yes indeedy, we should all feel shame.

Shame.

Ah, dragging out the "s" word when it comes to po' folks. And I'll bet you thought that went out with bell-bottom pants.

The cover of Newsweek magazine for Sept. 19 read "Poverty, Race & Katrina: Lessons of A National Shame." A picture of a tearful black toddler was on the cover.

Inside the story, written by Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter and titled "The Other America," editors worked in that "s" word again, just in case we missed it on the cover.

"An Enduring Shame: Katrina reminded us, but the problem is not new. Why a rising tide of people live in poverty, who they are - and what we can do about it," the subhead read.

So there you have it: Not only are there po' folks in America, not only should we feel shame about it, but, the story implies, we haven't done anything about it, either. It's as if the past 40 years never happened in America, because the truth is, we have done something about poverty. We've done plenty. Alter even mentioned some of what we've done in his story.

"Social Security and Medicare have all but eliminated poverty among the elderly," wrote Alter, who also praised food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

But those are only part of America's efforts to help the poor. We had the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. We still have the Job Corps.

Those programs were the result of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. Johnson, who launched the War on Poverty as part of his Great Society program in the 1960s, must have been sent rolling over in his grave by all the talk about how America has ignored the poor.

Note to Lyndon, wherever you are: The ones thumbing their noses at your legacy are mainly Democrats, Mr. President. That's gratitude for you.

You've gotta love today's Democrats. Can't win the White House. Can't win Congress. Can't remember their own history, either.

They won't recall the words in Section 201 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, passed by a predominantly Democratic Congress and signed by Johnson:

"In recognition of the special educational needs of low-income families and the impact that concentrations of low-income families have on the ability of local educational agencies to support adequate educational programs, the Congress hereby declares it to be the policy of the United States to provide financial assistance ... to local educational agencies serving areas with concentrations of children from low-income families to expand and improve their educational programs by various means (including preschool programs) which contribute to meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children."

Put in the plain, simple English legislators seem incapable of writing, that means the federal government committed itself, 40 years ago, to improving the plight of the poor by helping them with education. Johnson put it plainer in his speech when he signed the ESEA: "As the son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty." Johnson also promised that the ESEA would ensure that "5 million children of poor families [would] overcome their greatest barrier to progress: poverty."

Out of the ESEA came programs such as Head Start, which is still with us. The cost of Head Start, ESEA and other programs mentioned in this column run into the billions. Who paid for that?

We did. The same folks the pundits and talking heads are now suggesting have no clue that there are po' folks in America. The same folks who are supposed to feel shame that there are poor people in New Orleans.

Of course, we already knew that. But we also had the good sense to ask ourselves the question: With all the money we've spent to eliminate poverty over the past 40 years, why are there still poor in America? And were all those programs truly effective?

Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, in their book No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, suggest that one program, Head Start, has been a failure, at least for black preschoolers. The very fact that there is an "achievement gap" between white and black students 40 years after ESEA passed is one reason why many are questioning the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs.

No, we shouldn't feel shame because poverty persists in America. We should feel shame for not asking why we keep the same anti-poverty programs in place.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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