Latest Salvo in Attack on Poor in America

GOP throws working families under the bus with austerity measures to tackle the nation's debt.

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orrinhatch
Sen. Orrin Hatch says the poor must share in reducing the deficit. (Getty Images)

James Baldwin, the acclaimed African-American novelist and poet, famously wrote, "Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor." Baldwin was speaking of the psychological complexity of socioeconomic disparities.

His observations were specifically of the African-American community at the height of segregation in the 1960s, but the concept that the poor are often disparately more indebted and carry a greater financial burden, for lack of the necessary resources to survive, is just as much a reality today as it was then.

The political battles currently being waged in Washington reflect age-old struggles between the haves and have-nots. President Barack Obama, elected on a wave of populist enthusiasm -- otherwise known as hope -- came to embody the dreams of both the slave and the immigrant, giving birth to the idea that all men are created equal, and that the American dream is truly attainable by all.

Three short years later, and we see a nation divided and a crippled economy. Those who have held power for far too long are well-equipped at constructing a paradigm in which to maintain it. The Republican establishment and its neo-Confederate Tea Party caucus are hell-bent on destroying the goodwill achieved by the election of America's first African-American president and, in light of the latest battle over the debt-ceiling increase, have proved that they are willing to go as far as threatening the nation's economic solvency in order to "take their country back."

But from whom?

It seems that the entire conservative platform, often inarticulately expressed by the Republican congressional leadership and their Tea Party spokesmen, is committed to austerity measures that, at their core, are an assault on the poor and the middle class. Cuts to entitlement spending were a carte blanche requirement before negotiations could be entered on the matter of extending the debt ceiling and avoiding what could have become the nation's first-ever default.

No higher taxes for the wealthy could be considered because of a blind allegiance to the uncompromising Grover Norquist pledge signed by so many Republicans. And last month, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah expressed their true sentiment on the floor of the chamber when he insulted the American poor.

Hatch claimed that poor people need to take more responsibility for relieving the country's debt, because, after all, it would be unfair to tax the "daylights out of everybody around here." In this unscripted moment, Hatch unwittingly reveals that he is part of the problem, not the solution, and that he represents the very "wealthy" whom President Obama is asking to share in the burden during these tough economic times. "Everybody around here" presumably refers to Hatch and his fellow senators, who earn $174,000 a year and whose median net worth (as of 2009) was $2.4 million.

Herein lies the conundrum of American wealth in relationship to American poverty: The pride and prejudice are so wholly embraced that the shame has found no place to hide.

A Heavier Burden for Blacks

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