Candidates fail to address economic gap

By Andrew Hammond

Despite my obsession with Democratic Party politics, I have yet to find my candidate for the 2004 presidential election. Perhaps I’m just too picky, or perhaps in the reality of politics it is nearly impossible to find a candidate that can be supported without reservation or qualification.

Maybe these reservations stem from my love for American history. Reading about marble men like Abraham Lincoln and Bobby Kennedy has given me inspiring models that cause the contemporary leaders to appear pale in comparison.

But after weeks of reading the newspaper, surfing the campaign websites, and watching the debates, I have finally figured out why I am not enthralled. My complacency has nothing to do with the candidates. I honestly believe they could all do a better job than Bush.

The problem is that the candidates are missing the issue. They are avoiding, no pun intended, the elephant in the room, and that monstrosity is known as the Two Americas. In the past two decades, we have witnessed an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor in the United States, and as a result our society has become equally divergent—one for the haves and one for the have-nots. This vast inequality is the issue of our time, whether the politicians admit it or not. It is the dominant problem our generation must solve because its repercussions are felt in every corner of our society: from our schools to our cities, from our hospitals to our homes.

I recognize the fact that I do not have the background required to lecture anyone on the causes and consequences of this frightening pattern, but it doesn’t take an economics degree from the University of Chicago to understand that the rich are getting richer and the poor are not.

It is not difficult to see that in the most affluent country in human history, nearly 30 percent of its citizens do not make enough money to support a family of four.

It also does not take much time to realize that there are two public school systems in our nation: one for the upper-class communities where funding is ample, and one for lower-class communities where the students are many but the teachers and books are few.

It is not impossible to comprehend that some people have the healthcare necessary to fight preventable diseases, and yet others cannot afford the basic coverage that would get them emergency care.

It is certainly clear that, with the current economic policy, the rich are receiving tax-breaks and the working poor are losing jobs.

The ultimate question must be: can a representative democracy be stable and equitable in the wake of such an economically polarized society? The answer to this question remains to be seen, for never has the United States or any modern country been so unequal in material wealth.

The only thoughts that I can give on the future are gleaned by looking into our past. Two periods of strife, similar in their causes and consequences, offer forewarning. The first is from the Civil War and the question that threatened to destroy the nation over a similar question of inequality. Abraham Lincoln said of the impending war, “In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. A house divided against itself can not stand.”

During the second engagement in that strife over 100 years later, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in the fight. Robert F. Kennedy, delivering an impromptu eulogy for the slain civil rights leader, offered this plea to his fellow citizens: “What we need in the United States is not division, what we need in the United States is not hate, but love, wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice to those who still suffer within our own country, whether they be white, or whether they be black.”

I wish one candidate this year would ask for that sense of justice for those who still suffer, whether they are rich, or whether they are poor.