There are few editorial writers I follow as closely as New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow. I discovered him on an edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe a few years ago and found him strikingly smart, even if I didn’t always agree with his positions. The flaming independent in me doesn’t quite allow for that.Still, his is an important voice. He’s solidly sane, gloriously articulate and studied, and doesn’t mind getting into a dust up every once in while. In this day and age, as the public discourse grows more and more vitriolic, it’s refreshing to wake up to him in the morning. In a word, he’s civil.Even so, his left leaning ideology is fearless and he isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Blow is hardly one to chase down and hop on to anyone’s bandwagon. Such is the case with his sometimes supportive, sometimes rebuke of the Obama Administration. Though, it should be said that progressives are no safer than Conservatives.In fact, it seems the so-called “professional left” draws much of his ire. The rest appears to be reserved for the bank of not-so-anonymous, racially charged hate mail he receives by the truck load from right wing extremists. It’s amazing how many dullards actually use their real e-mail addresses and proudly sign their names.Still, I was intrigued when he published his latest column about this year’s State of the Union Address. He pointed out in “Hard-Knock (Hardly Acknowledged) Life” that, like few others, the president had failed to pay any significant attention to the nation’s poor. Save for a few poetic lines, the plight of the disenfranchised, dispossessed masses escaped any substantial mention.According to Blow:
It was only the second time since Harry S. Truman’s State of the Union address in 1948 that such a speech by a Democratic president did not include a single mention of poverty or the plight of the poor.
I immediately challenged that notion and quickly pulled up a copy of the speech. I read through every line and in the words of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, I said, “WTF?”–although, of course, for very different reasons.
So how is it that this Democratic president has the temerity to deliver a State of the Union address that completely neglects any explicit mention of the calamitous conditions now afflicting his staunchest supporters: the poor?
I’ve long said Barack Obama is just being the president he promised us he would be. If we feel duped, it’s because we caste of own believing mirrors upon him. He simply reflected who we wanted him to be.I, for one, should not have been surprised. A few years ago, I received an email from a business leader in East St. Louis, Illinois, my hometown. The writerknew that I had an indirect connection to then Senator Obama and urged me to contact him on the city’s behalf. There were many issues they wanted to talk about, including desperate poverty, environmental justice, economic redevelopment and education. The best I could do was to write a letter and ask a physician friend to pass it along.As I wrote, something dawned on me. The senator had never been to East St. Louis. This was a curious fact, given that the city of 40,000 is actually in Illinois—a world away from Chicago—but among his constituents all the same. East St. Louis is well accustomed to being forgotten, even by democrats who typically garner 98 percent of the vote.I cannot say with any certainty that the letter was received. I do know this. As Mr. Obama launched his campaign for president, became the nominee and went on to win the election, he never went to East St. Louis. Not once.Sure, rallies were held across the river in St. Louis, Missouri and there were campaign stops around the region. But, I have no evidence that he’s actually ever stepped foot in my hometown. I did have the opportunity to meet the president-elect on the campaign trail. I was among a small number of donors that welcomed him to a private dinner in Atlanta in June 2008. There were no more than 30 of us in the room, including the likes of Ted Turner and his son-in-law Rutherford Seydel, owner of the Atlanta Hawks. I took a moment to remind Mr. Obama about our mutual friend as an icebreaker before chatting him up about East St. Louis. He smiled as we laughed about our friend and remarked that I seemed smart and articulate. I should consider coming to work for him, he said. I sighed. Frankly, it’s not the kind of work I am cut out for.I wondered how much attention he could devote to so-called “black” issues without taking a political hit for doing so. I wondered if he had the courage to risk it.Blow, to his credit, says he’s tired of the politics of indirect shadow support. The entire “rising tide lifts all boats” hasn’t worked for far too many people. Too often, the people of East St. Louis and others like them—black, white and brown– are left out of the conversation altogether. Left behind.According to Blow:
In 2008, Obama won 73 percent of the vote of those earning less than $15,000 a year, 60 percent of those earning between $15,000 and $30,000 and 55 percent of the vote of those earning $30,000 to $50,000. Those were his widest margins of victory of any income group and helped to propel him to victory.
So I wonder now, when will it be their turn? When will the train stop in East St. Louis? Or will their travails continue, like whispers, to blow in the wind.For the full text of the 2011 State of the Union Address, click here or view the video below.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZdEmjtF6HE]