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Author Peter Edelman: Middle Class, Poor Should Unite Against The Rich

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WASHINGTON -- The doctrine of Bain Capital -- as outlined by former managing director Edward Conard -- is that the super rich got that way because they "earned" it.

The logical corollary is that financially battered middle-class Americans deserve what's happening to them, too. And that the poor deserve to be poor.

Peter Edelman, a Georgetown University law professor and longtime anti-poverty advocate, takes the exact opposite view in his new book, "So Rich, So Poor."

At an event for the book Monday hosted by two leading liberal advocacy groups -- the Center for American Progress and the American Constitution Society -- Edelman urged action by, and on behalf of, the broadest possible coalition of the 99 percent, against the 1.

"We need to have the largest 'we' we can get to defend what we have," he said.

The goal, he indicated, should be to raise taxes on the rich and strengthen the social safety net -- even as GOP leaders try to take it away.

"The first task, " Edelman said, is to "stand up and say broadly" that the Republican budget proposals calling for austerity and cutbacks to social service programs "are just destructive. And the rhetoric … is just weird."

Welfare "is basically gone," and now the GOP is going after everything else, he said. According to them, he said, "the whole problem is that we're helping people too much."

Edelman despaired against members of the middle class who vote against their own economic interests -- sometimes because they perceive the poor, rather than the rich, as the bigger economic threat.

"Our concern has to go all the way down to the bottom; all of the 99 percent if you will," he said.

Edelman's book outlines the huge challenges an anti-poverty crusade faces. Indeed, its subhead reads: "Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America."

Edelman quit his high-level job in the Clinton administration in protest, after President Bill Clinton signed a law that ended the welfare guarantee.

Now, "we have six million people in this country whose only income is food stamps," he said. "We need a national conversation about how to get incomes up to a level that people can live on."

Edelman gave President Barack Obama high marks for passing a stimulus that was heavy on anti-poverty measures, for adding 16 million adults to Medicaid, and other actions.

His complaint about Obama is that the president rarely addresses poverty explicitly. "The p-word is not much in evidence," Edelman said. "We really just need to call out the word and put it out there in the discussion."

In his book, Edelman writes that he used to believe that the debate over antipoverty efforts and the debate about taxing the rich should be held separately, so antipoverty advocates wouldn't be accused of favoring "class warfare."

But the rich have seized so much economic and political power that "we literally cannot afford to separate the two issues" anymore, he writes.

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