Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Left-side evangelical Jim Wallis of the Sojourners ministry is circulating a "Katrina Pledge" (readable here) in which signers commit to do what they can to combat the kind of poverty that the Katrina aftermath dramatized, both in their own contributions of time and money and in urging their representatives to act. The pledge itself is extremely short; but Wallis has also sent a letter to members of Congress that speaks a bit more (though still in general terms) about policy approaches and the longstanding liberal-conservative fight over what anti-poverty strategy to pursue. The central quote:
Second, each "side" of our political landscape ignores too many valid concerns of the other side. Poor families don't need us to take sides - they need us to stand in the gap with them. Much could be accomplished with a merging of personal and social responsibility, a commitment to reverse family breakdown, a more honest assessment of both the personal decisions and social systems that trap people in poverty. That involves being more creative than looking solely to charity or only to government for hope. We need to acknowledge that budgets are moral documents and budget priorities can help or hurt the poor - and acknowledge that negative family and cultural values deeply impact low-income people. We must all confront realities of our national, community, and personal priorities, recognizing that there are multiple breakdowns of culture, family, community, and government that are undermining poor families and the very fabric of our nation. Doing so requires that leaders who care about results start to look at the current situation and the future differently.
Indeed we must be disciplined by results when it comes to poverty reduction. It's time to move from the politics of blame to a politics of solutions. Liberals must start talking about the problems of out-of-wedlock births and strengthening both marriage and parenting. Conservatives must start talking about strategic public investments in education, health care, affordable housing, and living family incomes. We must focus on making work really work for low-income families. Those who work hard and full time in America should not have to raise their children in poverty - but many still do. Together, we must end the debate between large and small government and forge a common commitment to good and effective government. I hope you agree that now is the time to do so.
In this week's Time, Joe Klein writes in a similar vein:
The most effective thing the Congressional Black Caucus could do to fight poverty would probably be to invite white and Hispanic legislators who have significant numbers of poor people in their districts to join its ranks and rename itself the Congressional Antipoverty Caucus. One could also argue that the only way to build a coalition to fight poverty—and preserve affirmative action—in this conservative era would be to base preferences on economic need rather than race.
People like [Rep. Charles] Rangel and [Harry] Belafonte might do well to listen more closely to the next generation of black leaders—people like [Barack] Obama and Congressmen Harold Ford of Tennessee, Artur Davis of Alabama and Sanford Bishop of Georgia—who emphasize both the need for more money to fight poverty and the need to change the behavior patterns of the poor.
I also remember reading recently in either Time or Newsweek (can't find it online, though) the assertion that the vast majority of serious academic students of poverty issues have a consensus that both addressing family breakdown and providing smart public investments are necessary. Does that kind of "both/and" approach offer any hope -- in terms of both policy success and political viability?