A blog featuring a new book with book tour dates showcasing accolades, professional accomplishments, and Ivy League status by Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar Richard E. Rubenstein advertised his newly formed National Action Commission on Persistent Poverty (NAC).
Rubenstein, a George Mason University professor and director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, is keenly worried about the poor. But is it for poor people’s well-being, or is it upper-middle class fear that an increasingly restive mob of the disenfranchised may lay siege to middle/upper classdom at any moment?
Rubenstein’s article begins by acknowledging that persistent poverty in the US is a “national tragedy”, but he describes this “tragedy” in terms that reaffirm middle class America’s contempt and fear of the poor.
He referred to growing inequality and abject poverty as an “increasingly bitter and dangerous social conflict between mainstream Americans and the poor” — implying that the poor are what Charles Loring Brace once called the “dangerous class” that America’s properly pedigreed and college-degreed need to subordinate in order to protect the “nice, good” middle class. The poor are once again painted as a smoldering menace, as the socially inadequate “Other”, rather than an oppressed class deserving of concern for their lower life expectancy rates and higher maternal and infant mortality rates, which now surpass those of many Third World countries, thanks to the past 30 years’ War On the Poor.
Rubenstein’s proposal for “what to do about the poor” is to set up an elite commission and secure funding from undisclosed sources — various trusts and charitable foundations. His blog page shows a link to the Cato Institute, an ultra-right-wing think tank that is no friend to America’s women or the poor.
The funding would go towards paying commission members and staff a stipend for their research-gathering and policy-formulating. The NAC is to be, in Rubenstein’s own words,
“composed of eminent citizens and aided by a professional staff… [and]…renowned experts on poverty, social conflict, and relevant key policy issues, as well as high-profile public figures capable of offering and promoting important ideas.”
This implies that poor “nobodies” are incapable of offering and promoting any important ideas.
NAC ‘s mission statement pledges to “hold hearings, facilitate community dialogue and conduct research in a series of US cities and rural locales over a period of 18 months, beginning in Chicago in the summer of 2011.”
NAC members will give Congressional testimony as “experts” and the group’s activities will shape and influence the national discourse on poverty leading up to the 2012 presidential elections, and the strategic formulation of social and economic policies that will impact the poor — for better or worse.
Yet, not one member of this esteemed panel of “poverty experts” is someone in poverty who would be a real poverty expert and less likely to harbor antagonistic class biases against the research subjects (poor people) than those who have fancy degrees, impressive titles, and “important” jobs. America’s true poverty experts never seem to get a chance to earn any stipends for our life experience — not even those of us in poverty who incurred unaffordable student loan debt just to earn a Bachelors degree from a non-prestigious state college in order to be “worthy” of a chance for a job.
So, once again, a commission is formed by the powerbrokers of privilege for the specific purpose of shaping social and economic policies and influencing government on poverty issues. And as usual, the poor are excluded from the great table of diversity — our voices censored, our needs proxied, and our ideas dismissed or outright ignored. Very few in the middle/upper-middle class care what we think, if they even acknowledge we think at all.
Conventional “wisdom” holds that poor people aren’t “smart enough” to be included in any important decision-making where our own lives are concerned, otherwise we wouldn’t be “losers” that are summarily dismissed as “uneducated” with nothing of value to offer. That’s why we’re never invited to join the ranks of comfortably-off policy-making “experts” in the Commissariat — and thus have some power and control over our fate.
Any “commission on poverty” that is wholly manned and driven by those who have benefited from capitalism’s cruel system of unearned social class privilege smacks of elitism. The exclusion of poor people as the real poverty experts from NAC is really about one — and only one — thing: neutralizing the poor as a political bloc in order to preserve and perpetuate the exact same system of unearned privileges that create inequality, poverty, and conflict.
Rubenstein downplays the enormity of the crisis. As someone who wears his Harvard Law School and Oxford University degrees and Rhodes Scholarship like bling, Rubenstein revealed his muted contempt for poor people in his article, saying,
“While the poor often act in ways that threaten or anger more comfortable Americans, the latter commonly blame them for their plight, advocate ineffective solutions, or deny that the problem exists…On both sides of this conflict, people feel pain, confusion, fear, and rage.”
Welfare Reform and the elimination of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) that used to provide subsidized employment for society’s most disadvantaged, which enabled them to get a toehold on the jobs ladder and springboard into middle classdom, was more than simply the result of “advocating for ineffective solutions” to poverty — they were policies of Benign Neglect aimed squarely at the poor with malice and a priori knowledge that harm would result.
What Rubenstein calls “advocating ineffective solutions” is really a euphemism for premeditated social holocaust, spearheaded by his academic peers whose earlier poverty studies (and department chairs) were funded by well-heeled powerful think tanks promoting the “culture of poverty” claptrap that socially engineered the public like Pavlov’s dog into hating the poor.
Rubenstein’s claim that people on “both sides of this conflict feel pain” compares apples to oranges. There is no comparison for the pain experienced by those who have suffered the loss of all their teeth before age 35, getting abscessed teeth pulled one at a time (often without pain relief — the poor are all “druggies”) for lack of access to dental care; to the pain of some hurt feelings of those who have never known such deprivation (while being told that it was their fault for “not trying hard enough”).
There is no comparison of dying from hypothermia (or in a house fire from unsafe alternative heating methods) as a direct result of utility cut-offs due to poverty (while being labeled “energy thieves”) to some bruised egos suffered by the comfortably off; or the pampered class’s discomfort with poor people’s anger and colorful vocabularies.
To compare the suffering of lifelong deprivation due to the economic terrorism that poverty inflicts on its victims to some ruffled middle class feathers of those chiefly responsible for carrying out the oppression that has inflicted irreparable harm to the oppressed is academically dishonest and morally bankrupt. There is no comparison.
We do not need a commission unaccountable to the public that is “comprised of 12-15 eminent public figures” spearheaded by someone trumpeting his Ivy League curriculum vitae all over cyberspace as if he was auditioning for Jesus in order to “resolve” this “conflict.” We need a socio-economic system in which nobody has to suffer preventable pain, disability, or death for lack of access to good medical care or lack of other necessities conducive to valuing the human rights and dignity of America’s economically excluded whose social and economic claims are equally valid to those of America’s fortunate sons.
Rubenstein and company would have more credibility if: (1) they included real poverty experts on their commission with paid stipends and let their testimony be heard before Congress, and; (2) if they had not waited for 30 years of irreversible carnage from the War on the Poor before finally charging out of their Ivory Towers like the 7th Calvary to save the day.