There's yet another reason Democrats have made poverty a dirty word. In two failed presidential jousts with Bush, Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry figured that the only way they could win was to out Bush Bush. That meant talking and acting tough on national security, the war on terrorism, and greater defense spending and preparedness, adopting bland positions on health care, and social security that appeal to the white middle-class, and saying as little as possible about poverty. The Democrats trembled that such talk would only stir up white anger by reinforcing the old perception that Democrats tilt toward minorities.
Obama, Clinton, and Edwards briefly talked about the plight of the poor for a couple of reasons. Bush wasn't running again. So terrorism wasn't the big trump card issue for the Republicans in 2008. Black and Latino political activists also pounded on the Democrats after the Katrina debacle to make poverty an issue that. But that was two years ago. There's little pressure on Obama and other Democrats now to speak out about poverty. With Obama and the Democrats locked in a hard battle over health care reform and the economy showing only weak and sputtering signs of recovery, there's even less sense of a need let alone urgency for the White House and Congress to specifically address the problems of the chronic poor.
The poor, however, aren't going away. Their numbers are likely to grow. Eventually that may force Obama and the Democrats to do something they haven't done in decades, and that's take the dire plight of the poor seriously. There's nothing dirty about that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January, 2010.