Monday, January 21, 2008

The poor also vote

Today is Martin Luther King Day.

While he's best remembered for leading a mostly non-violent struggle to gain equal rights for blacks and for women, we forget that in the last few months of his life he was becoming extremely unpopular with both blacks and whites. With the legal battle for equality in the workplace and equality in public facilities won, Dr. King decided to go after a much touchier subject -- poverty.

But he was right to do so. There was no point in fighting for equal rights if the underprivileged had nothing to show for it at the end.

That's what makes the recent sniping among Democratic candidates about which of them is the true heir of King's legacy so distressing. Far as I can see, John Edwards has been the most forthright about the need to deal with endemic poverty, seeing it as much a threat to long-term national security as any terrorist group. Barack Obama hasn't emphasized it as much but from what I can see he also has started to get it. As for Hillary Clinton -- she's in bed with the lobbyists, has been from the day her run started and well before.

There was this thing during the 1960s called the "War on Poverty," which would have cemented LBJ's legacy as one of the true giants, had it not been for that thing called the Vietnam War. A number of years later, addressing a mostly white male group of rich people, Ronald Reagan got a huge ovation when he had the gall to say, "The War on Poverty is over, and the poor lost."

We need a champion for the poor this time around; someone who will set the broad framework by which the real dream of King will finally come to fruition. But I'm not optimistic. Because both parties and the mass media don't want to even hear of or from the poor. But the poor do vote, too.

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