Blow and Collins

Mr. Herbert is off today.  Mr. Blow, in “Hard-Knock (Hardly Acknowledged) Life,” says one part of President Obama’s State of the Union made a bit of history: his failure to mention poverty or the poor.  Ms. Collins, in “Don’t Know Much About History,” says not just anybody switches political parties over a historical novel, but Michele Bachmann did.  Figures.  The woman’s a moron.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

President Obama made history on Tuesday.

It was only the second time since Harry S. Truman’s State of the Union address in 1948 that such a speech by a Democratic president did not include a single mention of poverty or the plight of the poor.

The closest Obama got to a mention was his confirmation for “Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear” that, indeed, “the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real.” I’m sure they appreciated that.

The only other Democrat not to mention poverty in the speech was Jimmy Carter in 1980, but even he was able to squeeze in one reference to at least a portion of the poor and disenfranchised, stressing the continuation of jobs programs to “provide training and work for our young people, especially minority youth.” (Carter did mention the poor in a written version that he submitted to Congress.)

John F. Kennedy didn’t say the specific words “poor” or “poverty” in his first State of the Union, but he talked at length about providing “more food for the families of the unemployed, and to aid their needy children,” securing “more purchasing power for our lowest-paid workers by raising and expanding the minimum wage” and of a new housing program to address the problem of “cities being engulfed in squalor.”

So how is it that this Democratic president has the temerity to deliver a State of the Union address that completely neglects any explicit mention of the calamitous conditions now afflicting his staunchest supporters: the poor?

(In 2008, Obama won 73 percent of the vote of those earning less than $15,000 a year, 60 percent of those earning between $15,000 and $30,000 and 55 percent of the vote of those earning $30,000 to $50,000. Those were his widest margins of victory of any income group and helped to propel him to victory.)

He talked at length about education (the most inspiring part of the speech) and about civility and his repackaged bromides of global competitiveness and investments in the future. And, of course, there were cautious mentions of programs that benefit seniors and the need to protect and secure them. Can’t forget the plea to the old people.

Protecting programs for seniors strikes the right chord morally and politically, but the data show that seniors are not the ones feeling the majority of the pain these days.

According to data from the Census Bureau, the percent of people ages 18 to 64 who were living in poverty in 2009 was higher than it had been in any year since 1959, while the percent of seniors living in poverty was lower than it had been in any year since at least 1959.

(By the way, voters over 65 were the only age group that Obama lost in 2008.)

I, for one, refuse to believe that this is an either-or proposition. We can make smart choices about protecting seniors and supporting younger Americans in need at the same time. We don’t have to ignore the Annies among us to court the Miss Daisys.

For the poor, this is the Obama Conundrum. He was obviously the best choice in 2008. And judging by the current cast of Republican presidential contenders, he could well be the best choice in 2012. But does that give him license to obviate his moral responsibility to his electoral devotees? Can and should they take his snubs as a necessary consequence of political warfare as he makes every effort to tack back to the middle and reconnect with those whose opinion of him vacillates between contempt on a bad day and sufferance on a good one? Does keeping him in the White House dictate keeping them in the shadows?

And things could get even worse for the poor if the president feels the need to cut too many deals with the new Republican-led House in order to appear more centrist.

According to Brian Miller, the executive director of the nonpartisan and Boston-based group United for a Fair Economy and co-author of the group’s report entitled “State of the Dream 2011: Austerity for Whom?” released earlier this month, “austerity measures based on the conservative tenets of less government and lower taxes will ratchet down the standard of living for all Americans, while simultaneously widening our nation’s racial and economic divide.”

As Miller put it, deficits that tax cuts for the rich helped to create “are being used to justify a host of austerity measures that will harm Americans of all races but will hit blacks and Latinos the hardest.”

According to Miller, “With 42 percent of blacks and 37 percent of Latinos lacking the funds to meet minimal household expenses for even three months should they become unemployed, cutting public assistance programs will have devastating impacts on black and Latino workers.”

(Obama won 95 percent of the black vote and 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008.)

Even as my respect for this president as a shrewd politician has begun to rebound, my faith in him as a fervent crusader for the poor and disenfranchised has taken yet another nose dive. One’s tone-deafness — or blatant indifference — to the poor has to be at Black American Express status to brag that “the stock market has come roaring back” and “corporate profits are up” and not even mention the unemployment rate or the continuing foreclosure crisis.

I want to believe that President Obama’s speech omissions were oversights, not acts of arrogance. But I’m not sure.

President Truman wrote in 1953 that, “ultimately, no President can master his responsibilities, save as his fellow citizens — indeed, the whole people — comprehend the challenge of our times and move, with him, to meet it.” But, it is sometimes hard to follow — indeed, to chase — a president who appears to be moving, often at a full sprint, away from the people who once carried him.

And we wonder why we bothered a lot of the time.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Is Michele Bachmann the new Sarah Palin?

And do we really need a new Sarah Palin? Shouldn’t the first one be made to go away before we start considering replacements?

Bachmann, the superconservative member of Congress from Minnesota, made a big splash on Tuesday night with her Tea Party response to the State of the Union address. True, the placement of the cameras made her look as if she was talking to an invisible friend, and her eye makeup had a peculiar zombie aspect to it. But the next day all the attention was on her and not the official Republican response by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman.

And the Republicans were afraid to complain! One congressman from Utah told Politico that he thought “to try to upend Paul Ryan was just wrong.” Hours later he issued a retraction — through Bachmann’s office.

On one level, Bachmann is just a third-term representative who only gets attention whenever she does something newsworthy, like claiming the Constitution says she doesn’t have to tell a census taker anything but how many people live in her home. She was passed over in a try for a minor post in House leadership.

Yet, at her invitation, Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court came trotting over to the Capitol to lecture the House freshmen this week about the true meaning of the Constitution. And she makes the leaders who snubbed her quake with terror. What if she rallies her fellow Tea Partiers into a rebellion over, say, raising the debt limit, and the economy collapses?

She does have a history of single-mindedness. Back when Bachmann was a state senator in Minnesota, her colleagues complained that they couldn’t get a budget done because she insisted on bringing everything to a screeching halt to argue about same-sex marriage. It was a controversy marked by her usual flair. “In 2005, she claimed to have been held against her will in a restaurant bathroom by two critics of an amendment banning same-sex marriage; they said they’d merely buttonholed her to talk,” reported The Minneapolis Star Tribune in a profile. “Then foes claimed that Bachmann hid behind some bushes to spy on a gay-rights rally; she said she was merely checking the turnout.”

Bushes aside, Bachmann is a much more serious person than Palin, whose response to the State of the Union address was to focus on the title, “Winning the Future.” (“There were a lot of W.T.F. moments throughout that speech.”) If Palin and Bachmann were your co-workers, Palin would be the one sneaking out early to go bowling, while Bachmann would stay late to reorganize the office seating chart to reflect her own personal opinion of who most deserves to be near the water cooler.

History is superimportant to Bachmann, who claims that she left the Democratic Party when she was a college senior, after reading “Burr,” Gore Vidal’s caustic historical novel. “He was kind of mocking the founding fathers, and I just thought ‘what a snot,’ ” Bachmann told The Star Tribune. It was, she said, a transformational moment so critical to her worldview that she can still remember what she was wearing. (“A tan trench coat, blue pin-striped shirt, like a tailored shirt, and dress slacks.”)

It’s not everybody who switches political parties over a historical novel, but Bachmann’s vision of the past is the core to her ideology. The men who created the Constitution were perfect heroes, so infallible that they fully understood the right to bear arms would someday include semiautomatic pistols capable of firing 30 bullets in 10 seconds.

Last week, Bachmann was in Iowa, setting off alarm bells about her possible presidential ambitions and delivering a speech in which she claimed that the founding fathers had “worked tirelessly” to eradicate slavery. She then cited John Quincy Adams, who was not a founding father.

Bachmann is not a zealous fact-checker, as we learned when she claimed the president’s trip to India would cost the taxpayers $200 million a day, based on an Indian newspaper report quoting an unnamed provincial official. In the real world, many founders, like Thomas Jefferson, expressed reservations about slavery but still kept hundreds of slaves, who were the basis of their personal wealth. Others, like John Adams, never owned slaves and opposed the institution but compromised on the matter of all men actually being created equal in order to bring the southern states into the union. And not a single one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence envisioned in any way, shape or form a democracy in which people of Michele Bachmann’s gender would sit in the halls of Congress.

But Bachmann was speaking to the lore of the far right, which strips the founding fathers of their raw, fallible humanity and ignores the fact that, in some ways, we’re wiser.

Maybe she’ll make Sarah Palin look good.

If anyone could do that it would be Bachmann…

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