Over the weekend, John Martin, national political correspondent for the New York Times, wrote an article headlined “Democrats, Looking Past Obama, Are a Party Without a Cause”. In it he asserts that “it is unclear what will be the next great project of liberalism”, describes centrist Democratic support for incremental steps to help people adjust to a shifting workplace” and asks and what “grand ambition” will animate the Democratic Party in the post-Obama era beyond the unifying quest to defeat Donald Trump. http://tinyurl.com/zuuonwm
Given the high stakes in this election, if Martin is right, it is a terrible missed opportunity. Infrastructure, economic equality, a higher minimum wage and easier access to higher education are all mentioned as candidates for a Democratic Administration’s agenda. They are all worthy and would be important advances. But there still lacks a larger unifying theme. One that should be considered is a broad and deep investment in America’s children, aimed especially at breaking the cycle of child poverty – an investment that could include early childhood education, health care, child care, nutrition assistance, mentoring, and other supports.
Notwithstanding the lip service political leaders give to children, we actually don’t invest in them. According to the advocacy organization First Focus, the share of federal spending dedicated to children is just 7.83% of the federal budget and total spending on children has decreased 5% over the last two years. The reason is simple: children are politically voiceless. They don’t vote and don’t make campaign donations. With only a few exceptions, they have no lobbyists. The agenda in Washington and in state capitols gets set by others. As Mark Shriver, president of Save The Children Action Network recently told the Washington Post: “I’ve spent 20-some odd years listening to politicians tell me how great our work is and essentially patting me on the head. And then when push comes to shove they don’t invest in children.” Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund calls this “our intolerable national hypocrisy gap.”
Bold leadership would put ending child poverty and making a robust investment in the next generation at the center of its agenda. From the New Deal and social security to the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights legislation, the Democratic Party has been most effective and inspiring when acting on behalf of those too weak, disenfranchised, or unable to act for themselves. Today that group is our children, more than 20% of whom live in poverty. As the Democrats look for their next great cause, it ought to consider the one that all of our futures depend upon. Our economic competitiveness and national security demand that we address the moral injustice of child poverty in America.