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March 01, 2003

Racism, Poverty & the Candidates

What outrages me about the attacks on Kucinich is that he is leading the charge against Bush's racist assault on the poor in Congress. Let's get off thirty year old news stories and talk about what candidates are doing about racism and poverty TODAY.

Here is Kucinich on the current Bush-GOP proposals to tighten the screws on welfare recipients (issued jointly with Progressive Caucus co-chair Barbara Lee):

“The Republican TANF plan is a continuation of the failed policy of the past, and ignores current economic conditions. The current Republican proposal preys upon low-income Americans, who are disproportionately African-Americans and people of color, and will continue class warfare in this nation.

The legislation, rushed to the floor without going through committee, fails to recognize the dire condition of our nation’s economy. The facts are that in the last two years, measures of unemployment, poverty, TANF caseloads, state spending on TANF services and requests for social services have all increased."

And the other candidates? Silence or worse.

Joe Lieberman- Forget him. He's enthusiastic to "Reauthorize welfare reform to place a greater emphasis on moving recipients into work and training" in an economy with mass unemployment.

John Kerry- Voted for the welfare "reform" bill in 1996. In a December speech on the economy, the word "poverty" isn't mentioned, and his only mention of welfare was to tout the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a great program, but doesn't do a damn bit of good if you don't have a job.

John Edwards- The words "poverty" and "welfare" don't appear on the "Issues page" of his website. I did manage to find mention of one speech in the news where Edwards told an audience that " "[Bush's] welfare-to-work program is out of touch." But his actual economic plan ignores any mention of poverty spending, except for extending unemployment benefits, nice but irrelevant for the long-term unemployed and poor.

Richard Gephardt- Frankly, his Presidential website shows why he has a lot of loyalty from labor types, since he has a serious bottom-up economic policy aimed at raising wages, but even he doesn't have a word about welfare reform on his website. And the word poverty appears nowhere. Gephardt, unlike Kerry, at least voted against the 1996 welfare bill.

Howard Dean- Even this candidate vying to lead "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" can't bear to have the word "poverty" on his issues page. Can't find mention of poverty or welfare reform anywhere on his site. Even his barnburning DNC speech only makes one nod to the issue in saying government should be "taking care of poor kids"-- as if poor adults are irrelevant or a shameful thing for Democrats to deal with.

So this leaves Kucinich as the only major candidate besides Al Sharpton speaking out loud and clear on issues of poverty and the racist assault on the poor.

So don't quote 30-year old hit pieces to me.

Posted by Nathan at March 1, 2003 12:40 PM

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I totally agree that the attacks on Kucinich 30 years late are unjustified, and probably orchestrated from within the Left. His record on reproductive rights are much more of an issue for me, but as someone raised Catholic, I understand where he's coming from.

Edwards may have a gap in his poverty rhetoric, but his record on the disabled, in particular special needs children, is exceptional. And I don't think its his crew who are fanning the fires under Kucinich.

Posted by: MB at March 1, 2003 04:33 PM

Thanks for this post. I've been appalled at how all the blogs I read and respect got conned into linking to that cheapshot story. It really does seem orchestrated, but for the life of me I don't know whether we should point a finger at Dean (the candidate closest to Kucinich on the war, and thereby the one most hurt by Kucinich inroads) or the usual suspects at the DLC. I vote for Al From and the rest of his DLC crowd, the same rotten so and so's who have homogenized the Democratic Party into a pack of gutless weasels who refuse to fight back against Bush and his outlaw administration.

Posted by: Mark Gisleson at March 1, 2003 06:23 PM

Good call.

Posted by: Seth Edenbaum at March 2, 2003 11:37 AM

I don't know who promoted this story and got Josh to bit-- it may be a tick all on his own. And I don't necessarily think the other candidates are heartless towards the poor-- they are just being quieter about it.

But as someone who has been quite robust in my criticism of Nader, folks in the "we want to win" camp had better play nice with the left fringe of the race or they'll find the fringe taking a walk to third party land. Kucinich and Sharpton are not going to win the nomination, so it is suicidal and self-destructive for the real contenders to take cheap shots at them. There's almost nothing to gain and everything to lose if they and their supporters get pissed off and go nuclear.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at March 2, 2003 12:36 PM

I read the Kucinich interview in Salon yesterday and did not find it revealing on this matter. Kucinich just said none of his conflicts were ever about race. I would be interested in hearing other people's opinions of the interview.

I also want to know more about the intervening years, between Kucinich's mayoralty and his election to Congress. I believe this will all be scrutinized if the story develops legs.

Posted by: Mac Diva at March 2, 2003 03:05 PM

Does anyone know Kerry's stand on trade? Was he pro-NAFTA, GATT, FTAA etc.? Does he have a "nuanced" position on these issues like Clinton told us he did?

I ask this here because it seems (to me) the two are inextricably linked. The politicians tell these single mothers they have to go get jobs and become productive members of society. Yet, in the meantime, the same politicians have guaranteed that good industrial jobs won't be there, leaving few options for these women but to work at Wal-Mart.

And then the polticians wonder why poor people can't break the "cycle of poverty."

Posted by: Kumar at March 3, 2003 08:20 PM

Playing nice with the left fringe is one thing, a free pass for race baiting is another.

If Kucinich really didn't engage in the behaviour that is alleged in Salon/TPM then the accusations are not likely to stick.

And regardless of whether the charges have any degree of validity, its better to find out if the story has legs now rather than latter. It's silly to imagine Karl Rove wouldn't execute a well timed spin of the story. Maybe he already has.

Posted by: BK at March 3, 2003 08:21 PM

I'm a little amazed all the Kucinich supporters are so angry about this. That article and its accusations were going to arrise at some point (since even Kucinich's statements suggest that he had conflict with black politicians, just not for racial reasons), and I figure better now (during the Iraq media domination and early) when they can refuted and laid aside. NO ONE is paying attention right now. I say, air out the dirty laundry.

Also, I want a War on Poverty - but the language of poverty and the poor is largely rejected by the swing voters. I think there are other ways of framing the exact same issues that appeal to voters. I say, rather than focus on the word poverty, look at their stances. Now Kucinich may be the best candidate on these issues, but I personally think Dean deserves a little bit of credit. Every child in vermont now has health care because of him. That includes a lot of kids who didn't before because of poverty.

Posted by: MDtoMN at March 4, 2003 03:35 PM

Well, I guess that's balanced out by the Democrat's viciously racist opposition to Bush's tax cut. (What, you say? Racist? How could that be? Well, it's racist by the same logic as Bush's welfare policies are racist -- opposing a tax cut means opposing something that would allow a lot of white people to keep more of their own money. So therefore it's racist. Right?)

Posted by: R2D2 at March 4, 2003 03:44 PM

R2D2-- I'm not even sure what you are responding to, but by your logic, Bush's tax cuts are racist against white people, because most of services being cut to pay for them are being take from middle class white folks.

Since most of the tax cuts go to such a small group of people, the best you can say is that Bush is being even handed in screwing people of all races in destroying the economy and giving his giant giveaways to the wealthy.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at March 4, 2003 03:57 PM

I was responding to the illogical and stupid assertion that welfare reform is "racist," simply because more black people are on welfare proportionally and therefore would be affected by the reform. By that logic, opposing tax cuts is racist too. And certainly supporting affirmative action is racist, because that takes benefits away from white people.

Posted by: R2D2 at March 4, 2003 11:34 PM


FWIW, to me 'welfare reform' rhetoric is racist because the Atwaterian fiction of Welfare Queens and the common shibboleth of brown 'Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs' (thanks, Lizards) are still trotted out to justify cuts in welfare. Who gets that welfare (which does include plenty of poor, especially rural, white folx) is secondary to the fact that the anti-welfare campaign perpetuates these stereotypes, which are virulently racist.

Posted by: Ruth at March 5, 2003 01:05 AM

I wanted to bring up the fact that our system of government and the freedom which we live in already gives those who are poor the chance to get back on there feet. Welfare has become the only source of income for many "poor". It's a sad fact that many who are poor continue to make poor decisions such as drug/alcohol abuse, crime, and reliance on welfare and the government to get them out of poverty. They to learn that you have to work in America to make a living.
Robert S. Morgan

Posted by: Robert S. Morgan at March 12, 2003 10:52 PM

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