The Center Policy Abyss: Minority Voters Losers Again?

03/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The discussion of the latest strategies of the White House and Congressional Democrats brings to mind a saying that the Ojibwe wise men and women had resigned themselves to: "It matters little who is President, and who gets elected: we will always be poor." This latest scenario is an example of this resignation felt by minority voters; there is never enough for the people on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. The message is always the same out of DC: just wait, help is just around the corner. And it never comes to people that never received much from Uncle Sam, and expect little.

I am reminded of this as the White House struggles to refine its message. We can, as in past election cycles, just ignore what is going on, and try to struggle toward an uncertain future. We can be the change we seek as our President urges us. I already feel like an afterthought, and barely, at that.

The minority voters have been extremely patient, and in these communities, whether it is urban Detroit or the rez in Montana, or a small city like Missoula, unemployment is high. Nerves are frayed. People struggle to get food, keep shelter, and it is a constant game of whack-a-mole to pay bills every week. It has long past the point where a family can adequately meet its monthly stack of bills. It has come down to prioritizing what necessities you need most this week.

Democrats were frustrated with the Coakley loss in Massachusetts. I had read some keen observations. Richard Eskow writes that it may be in Democrats' political survival need to move to the left. I agree, but not so much that I care about Democratic survival; My first concern is fixing the nation's antiquated approach to social policy that is the root of the ailing economy. If we do this all around a centerpiece jobs effort, the election will take care of itself. People are not far from abject misery.


Striving toward the 'center' is a political campaign strategy, it is not a good place to start hatching policies that are at their heart, tranformational. The health insurance reform bill is a legislative disaster testimonial on how not to make law. We need profound change-centered policy-making and a President with the political and moral courage to enact it. The center is cruelly becoming mythical and transformational policies are not likely to emerge from this abyss.

The New Deal, the War on Poverty, the Indian Self-Determination era, the Civil Rights Act, the Federal Fair Housing Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act did not come from an inspired center. Rather, these transformational efforts were left of center. The left as a policy generator has set the standards of our times. I have looked, although I always feel I am only skimming the surface, at the issue of Medicare and Medicaid. For every Medicare beneficiary, there are 3.9 people paying those benefits through taxation. That ratio will drop by 2030 to 2.4 for every 1 beneficiary. This is the fastest growing area of federal spending. Medicare for All is feasible with reconciliation, it has been all along. Get it done. How did the Senate Democrats allow themselves to reach a moral low point: the Cornhusker kickback?


For those who prefer private insurance, we will offer comparable coverage under the same range of private insurance plans already available to Congress. I can think of nothing more cynical or hypocritical than a Member of Congress who gives a speech denouncing health care for all, then goes to his doctor for a visit paid for by the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan.

He also said:

As we implement this reform, financing must be a shared responsibility. All will benefit, and all should contribute. Payroll taxes should be part of the financing, but so should general revenues, to make the financing as progressive as possible.

Did this sense of shared sacrifice and shared responsibility die with the late Senator? This is doable, and anything short of this will only give us more auto-maker and other corporate bailouts, and kicking the can down the road.


In these transformational times, we can re-enact Glass Steagall and end financial apartheid as we know it, fix federal housing policy, update HUD policies to further promote homeowner equity, and reform the Social Security system of policies that keep the elderly and disabled in or near poverty status. We need to transform the criminal justice and legal systems that created disparity for minorities as nothing more than a commodity for the prison industrial complex. We need to look at the need to democratize the law if democracy itself is to survive. We need progressive education policy -- it seems harder than ever for kids to even stay in school. Record high drop out rates afflict the young in minority communities. Education no longer is the ticket to a secure middle class life. There is something wrong with that picture.

The national dialog has not gone where we need it to go. Democratic leaders are obsessing over the center, they are tethered to the perpetual election cycle. It has become a national way of life. We know, and common sense tells us: we need to fix what is broken. This nation may have an enduring spirit, but eight long years of Bush conservativism has worn our national endurance threadbare. We cannot return to this group think, we simply cannot afford to. As it stands, this nation's future prosperity is iffy at best. Democratic Blue Dogs cower from their funders and the right, they do not inspire confidence.

The times call for Democratic leaders to act with conviction. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) exemplifies the spirit needed. Sen. Feingold has led the progressives of the party with Rockefeller; they can be worn down from party infighting. I do not believe the Blue Dog coalition will lead this nation out of the darkness to a new policy day. They do not have the qualities required. I see leaders such as Feingold emerging from the pack to claim the Democratic high ground; to be partners with the President. The voters spoke in 2008 -- they embraced a change agenda. We need to adhere to the will of the people. He left us early in this transformative time; the Lion of the Senate would have led us to a better day. If we are at a loss, all we need to do is ask: what would he have done?