Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Objectifying the poor

Well, I still don't have much time to blog today. But I didn't want to skip it altogether, either, so this is going to be a slightly condensed version. :)

Mitt Romney is taking some heat for his remark about the poor:

Multi-millionaire Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is taking fire from his political rivals over remarks suggesting he is indifferent to America's poor.

The wealthy ex-governor of Massachusetts and former private equity executive made the comments in an interview with CNN on the morning after his crucial victory in the Florida primary.

"I'm not concerned about the very poor - we have a safety net there," he said.

"If it needs repair, I'll fix it."

Mr Romney was making a point also made by president Barack Obama about the need to shore up the American middle class.

But his language fed perceptions that he is out of touch with ordinary people.

"You can choose where to focus, you can focus on the rich, that's not my focus," he said.

"You can focus on the very poor, that's not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans, retirees living on social security, people who can't find work."

Now, I'm no Romney supporter, and this is classic political foot-in-mouth syndrome. But on the other hand, I have to ask: has feigning some sort of super-concern for those living in poverty become another part of our once-every-four-year's game of national politics? And, apart from political campaigns, does it mean much?

Some would argue that it does--and that what it means is actually not such a good thing. Like in the present debate about the HHS's anti-Catholic policy, there's an assumption on the left that people really do need government solutions to everything. Promiscuous women all over America will suffer greatly if their employers aren't forced to buy them contraceptive pills or pay to have them sterilized! The very poor will suffer greatly if we don't force the present level of government safety-net programs to be increased exponentially! And so on.

But isn't there something condescending, in the case of the very poor, in the way they and their concerns are used to get votes by people who have no idea of what real poverty is like, and who have never shared their burdens or understood their challenges? And isn't there something objectifying about insisting that campaigns run by millionaires have to give a certain sort of insincere nod to poverty in order to be taken seriously?

I don't know the answer here; poverty is a real problem. But if we have some sort of simplistic national faith in the ability of any president to "fix" poverty in one or even two four-year terms, doesn't that say more about our credulity and desire to push off our own responsibilities to the poor onto the government than it does about our presidential candidates?


Anonymous said...

I think what Mitt said was just a not so great choice of wording, but it was interesting to see our unbiased media splice his words. Moving on.

I think we do need to know what a possible future pres thinks about a lot of matters, one of which is poverty. Now, I agree, both sides use the poor for their own political gain, of course.

Ann Marie

Tony said...

What does "the very poor" mean? I know what it means in Mumbai. It means dying in the streets.

What does it mean here? Does it mean not knowing where your next meal is coming from? Does it mean not being able to afford HBO with your premium cable package? Does it mean being homeless and sleeping on the street? Does it mean being forclosed on the house you couldn't afford to buy in the first place?

This is the slipperyness of terms like "the very poor" or "those less fortunate than you".

There are people in the bottom 1% of income in this country. If we were all millionaires, there would still be people in the bottom 1%.

You might accuse me of being unChristian, but I cannot see worrying too much about people, 85% of which have the same amenities that I have, and who live in houses with 25% more square footage than the middle class in Europe.

Anonymous said...

To take the issue on the train of another thought. In the US, talking about the poor implies those without means to access needs as outline in Maslow's hierarchy: phyiological, safety, love/belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization. And, yes, the lowest level of poverty exists in the US, even as physiological needs are unmet, however, mostly for the most vulnerable of us, children, elderly, ill--mentally or physically, and disenfranchised. I could see where Mr. Romney might easily promise to do something about those sorts of needs.

I have heard and seen positive effects of President Obama's political statement with regard to ensuring our society provides access meeting needs at all levels, and not just by choice of being able to afford to purchase the golden ticket dependent on individual level of wealth, which is the what I fear Mr. Romney's level of intellect ascribes is the solution to providing universal human needs.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

Foot-in-mouth disease can be revealing, even when in all fairness it must be recognized that what the man meant to say is not really so bad.

Phrases like "I don't care about the poor" and "I like to fire people" do indicate something about his thought process and priorities.

I know people caught in the "safety net." They deserve better. So-called "conservatives" (present company excepted, and likewise my mother), seem to want them to simply stew in their own juices, while what passes for "liberals" want them to be content with subsistence (perhaps supplemented by contraceptives).

A humane program that opens up real opportunities to get back into meaningful work, while treating each individual with dignity, and carefully sorting out the real mooches, without slamming those who are really trying, would take some commitment, ingenuity, thought, attention to detail, that appears to be totally lacking.