America will not win the War on Poverty until there is a shift in strategy – and a surge from the troops
Both Democrats and Republicans have taken on the mantle of addressing America’s growing woes with poverty. You can see it with the rhetoric that both are taking on as well as with the issues they now choose to address publicly.
That has become a popular catch-phrase among President Obama and the Democrats at a time when they have overseen the historic rebounding of Wall Street, all while Main Street has continued to lag behind in a recession that officially ended years ago.
That term is now seen as the noble focus of Congress in January, even though both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and President Obama went to fill their Christmas stockings after passing a years-in-the-making bipartisan budget bill without adding a relatively scant amount of money to ensure that 1.3 million Americans had something to get them through New Year’s Day and the first month of the year.
“War on Poverty”
That has become the theme of the week as we reflect upon President Lyndon B. Johnson’s historic speech 50 years ago this week. Republicans such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Democrats alike have taken to speeches, articles, and interviews commemorating our path to elevate the lowest socioeconomic levels of American society. Of course, this sadly comes as we continue to watch our society violently rip into two separate and unequal Americas once again, with one America being constantly courted during news cycles and election seasons while the other is only addressed during special occasions such as Dr. King’s birthday, Black History Month, The March on Washington, and LBJ’s State of the Union address of 1964.
The rhetoric can flow. Both sides of the aisle can talk a good game, using their time-tested principles to articulate how they would be able to eradicate poverty in America. However, looking at times when both Republicans and Democrats ruled without significant partisan opposition, it is clear that the “War on Poverty” has not been a focused, prioritized effort for the duration of the 50 years since LBJ’s address by either side.
This war – if we are going to truly win it – needs a shift in strategy and a surge in troops.
The issues that anchor inexcusable poverty in America – poor educational pathways for many, lack of career opportunities in chronically-deprived neighborhoods, inadequate neighborhood conditions including housing and safety issues, among other matters – are ones that must be addressed with more human resources, not just more financial resources.
It is true that we have dumped trillions of dollars into the “War on Poverty” without receiving the result that we had hoped for over the years. However, cutting this flow of capital permanently or haphazardly risks the continued wasting of American talent in the ghettos and disadvantaged neighborhoods of this nation. For decades, America specialized in unearthing the hidden gems of the world by cultivating physicians, business leaders, and engineers from the depths of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, Brooklyn, and Englewood. That recognition, development, and application of talent takes both the money and the manpower to move people from despair to a higher destiny. Capital is needed to win this war, but talent development is needed even more.
Just as we did in the Middle East, there must be a new surge of people, ideas, activism, and persistence that forges a new foundation for the War on Poverty. Money alone cannot never teach a poor student how to work business deals, broker new relationships internationally in the global economy, and sustain a sense of relevancy across multiple industries over the coming decades. Politicians, teachers, volunteers, and other civic leaders must be engaged and form the bridge that walk poor Americans out of the hopelessness of poverty and into the opportunities that bask through the light that is the American Dream.
Relationships matter just as much – if not more – than mere resources. Slaves became congressmen in the 1800s. Poor people became civil rights icons in the 1900s. In the 21st century, we cannot look at the lack of resources as the reason why the War on Poverty has failed. We must continue to look within, even as we utilize all that is around us to overcome -finally- this society-crippling hazard. Tax cuts will work, but it is not enough. Some smart and efficient government intervention will help, but it is not enough. This ongoing American tragedy is an American problem that must be solved by a surge in American interaction, not just American money. An efficient government approach will enable us to finally win this internal war. Any continued reckless approach – whether it comes from carte blanche spending from liberals or hacksaw social program cuts by Republicans – only bleeds us dry in a battle we simply cannot afford to lose any longer.
Rhetoric that speaks to the battle to help the middle class will not win the War on Poverty and elevate more Americans into the middle class.
This week, we talk about the poor and, perhaps, we might even collectively talk at the poor. However, it is due time for us to talk with the poor, walk with the poor, and serve the poor. It is there where we will actually – selflessly and selfishly – serve and help ourselves as a nation.
The American Dream finds its sweetness in its forgiving doorways of opportunity for all when the dream is embraced effectively. The strength of America in this century moving forward – in the realms of innovation, geo-economics, geopolitics, and society – finds its power only in its foresight to re-engage the poor in a moral crusade to rebound a hurting nation with rediscovered talents and a renewed togetherness.
Lenny McAllister ( @lennymcallister ) is an internationally-recognized political commentator and former congressional candidate that is regularly featured on several national and international outlets including Canada’s Sun News Network, Al Jazeera America, the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel, Radio New Zealand and Sirius-XM Radio. His daily podcast “Get Right with Lenny McAllister” on www.LennyMcAllister.com. Catch Lenny’s “The McAllister Minute” regularly on The American Urban Radio Network.