I’m en route from Boston to Anchorage, Alaska. During the course of ten hours in the air it’s hard to not be impressed with what a vast country ours is, and just how formidable is the task of ending childhood hunger, or solving any major national problem for that matter. I’m making the trip at the invitation of the Alaska World Affairs Council, and partly to satisfy my desire to get to the only one of the fifty states to which I have not yet been.
Such a long journey guarantees that rare opportunity to read every single article in the newspaper. What I read today reinforced the vital responsibility that both Share Our Strength and CWV have to be a voice, even if a lonely one, for those whose voices are not heard.
The New York Times reported on the latest round of skirmishing between Democrats and Republicans over taxes and spending, almost all of it designed to score political points rather than impact the economy. In another article, about the team guiding President Obama’s re-election, his top political adviser David Plouffe, asserts that Obama offers the American people the choice “of a president who says ‘Every decision I make is focused on the middle class.’”
What about the rest of the country? 46.2 million Americans now live below the poverty line. I wonder what it feels like to hear that they are not even in the scope of the President’s work, let alone a priority.
Plouffe’s comments have bothered me all day, especially for how deliberate they were. His enforcement of message discipline is legendary in political circles. His carefully chosen words were meant to be music to the ears of many Americans who fit squarely into that most popular and potent of all political cohorts: the election-deciding middle class. They of course have legitimate wants and needs, but at least they have a voice. What of those who don’t?
We have reached a new low when political leaders and their spokespeople actually brag about representing not all of the nation, but only a portion of the population, albeit a politically powerful one. Political calculation has morphed into political callousness.
Presidents are uniquely elected to set a higher and unifying national standard. When they don’t the bar is lowered for everyone else. That’s apparent in Congress’s response to the President’s jobs bill, which Thursday’s NY Times also discusses in its lead editorial. Not only is the jobs legislation during this unemployment crisis being held up by the president’s Republican adversaries, but also by members of his own party who lack the courage to advocate government action that may be politically unpopular.
From 37,000 feet up here somewhere between Boston and Alaska, looking down at the farms and factories, at the small towns and schools where children were taught that Presidents act on their behalf no matter which class they belong to, America looks fertile and full of possibility. But our leaders no longer see the whole, as one can from this vantage point. They have instead narrowed their vision to see only what is small and advantageous in the short-term. As a result they perpetuate the smallness, the narrowness, and the division. By such actions they are choosing to follow rather than to lead. The only remedy is for others to lead, for citizens and community organization to act not on behalf of a class, but on behalf of a country. That remains our work, more important now than ever.