Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon Johnson outlined a set of programs in his State of the Union address that would go on to be known as the War on Poverty. Today, pundits and politicians from both sides are using the semicentennial of this moment to either remind us what we’ve done wrong in this so-called war or how we just haven’t done enough. In either case, one thing is clear: we have not ended poverty in the U.S. This is due in large part because we are treating it as a problem we can fight rather than addressing the real enemy, the system itself.
Last week, Sen. Tim Scott wrote an op-ed in The Post and Courier which took aim at the War on Poverty. In his piece, an entirely disingenuous dismissal of “government-centric” policies, he portrays himself as an American success story — no thanks to any government policies, of course — and aligns himself with the common man, all while promoting right-wing policies aimed at making poverty worse than it is now.
After all, Scott’s “legislative agenda” is little more than today’s nonsensical right-wing wish list dressed up in Orwellian doublespeak. When the senator talks about “economic freedom,” he speaks not to the poor but to employers. And although he says he wants to help single parents “by allowing for wider use of comp time,” consider the implications of what he’s proposing. In essence, he wants employers to allow employees to use their overtime hours as vacation time, which can only be used whenever the bossman says it’s OK to have some time off. The end result: No more time-and-a-half pay. In fact, you might even say it’s a plan to get people to work overtime for free.
In his op-ed, Scott also notes that poverty rates are growing these days, pointing out that 15 percent of Americans live in poverty today while in 1974 only 11.2 percent did. However, he fails to mention that even that rate was nearly one-half of what the poverty rate was just a decade before President Johnson began his war, meaning that the “government-centric” efforts of those that came before him were better at addressing poverty than the administrations of the past 40 years, each one a supporter of “trickle down” economics. This factoid isn’t an indictment of government-centric polices; they’re an indictment of the business-friendly policies our nation has pursued for the past four decades.
Meanwhile, politicians and pundits on the Left are perfectly fine copying the tactics of the Right. They’re content with telling their supporters that the party is doing everything it can to help them — and to keep voting for the Democratic candidates — but then the members of the liberal party do nothing. The truth is most of the progressive ideas today’s Democrats propose are ideas that were proposed a long time ago. They should be the norm now, but they’re not. And that’s simply because the Left in America long ago ceded whatever power it had to the party centrists, most notably President Bill Clinton, a man who “ended welfare.”
As a result, the Democrats will go on pretending the problems of poverty can be solved by raising the minimum wage, insuring women are paid the same as men, and requiring maternity leave to be paid. But these aren’t solutions. They are stop-gap measures designed to ensure that the system goes on functioning as “business as usual.” But business as usual is what gave us the New Deal in the 1930s instead of actual socialism and a War on Poverty in the ’60s instead of a War on Big Business, which is what we should be fighting.
Poverty is a condition of how we do business in this country. Raising wages is fine, but absolutely limiting wages for top earners would be better. Paying working new mothers for time off would be an improvement, but allowing families to operate without both parents being absent 80 hours a week would be better. After all, what good is having the kind of “economic freedom” advocated by the Tim Scotts of the world when only a small percentage of the people benefit from those freedoms?