In a recent article, noted CNN foreign affairs pundit Fareed Zakaria states that Mitt Romney’s comment that he does not care about the very poor was consistent with the general American sentiment. According to Zakaria, “We don’t – none of us – spend much time thinking about the very poor.”
Zakaria has it wrong on two levels: (1) He does not address Romney’s belief that there are programs in place that already take care of the very poor; and (2) Whereas Romney stated that he’s “not concerned” about the very poor, Zakaria believes that Americans are not even “thinking about” the very poor.
Americans do care about the very poor. I dislike when people make broad, sweeping generalities that they peddle as fact. Having lived in South Carolina, Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and New York, I know of a country whose cultural values are shaped by ethnic, economic, and geographic diversity. There is no homogenous religious, economic, or political belief system in America. Therefore, there can be no factual generalities about the 300 million people who call the United States home. In each state that I have lived in (not just visited), I interacted with thousands of Americans who thought about and cared about the plight of the very poor. Zakaria is absolutely wrong to state that none of us care.
Why do I bring this up? Media theorist Marshall McLuhan argues “the medium is the message”; there is a symbiotic relationship between the actual message and how the medium effects how it is perceived. In Zakaria’s case, his medium is print and video statements using the platform of well-known media organizations that spread his message across the globe. This medium may cause citizens in young and emerging democracies abroad to think that Zakaria understands Americans and their mindsets. Furthermore, it may cause them to think the American people only have base interests and not genuine human rights concerns. Are we just interested in pursing or securing foreign policy interests, or are we concerned about autocratic regimes’ and pseudo-democratic transitional councils’ treatment of the poor and courageous activists? If American’s do not care for their own, how can they care about assisting emerging democracies? Zakaria sends the wrong message regardless of the medium.
Zakaria is a naturalized citizen, having come to America to study at Yale and then Harvard. Afterwards, he worked for the Council on Foreign Relations’ Foreign Affairs journal before beginning a long and productive career with Newsweek and Time. Zakaria may have spent time in Manhattan, New York, but I doubt he has spent a lot of time with the people of Manhattan, Kansas.
As black history month comes to a close, I cannot help but remember that Dr. Martin Luther King was in the midst of preparing a “Poor People’s Campaign” when he decided to go to Memphis, TN to support striking garbage workers demanding better wages and treatment. There are many good organizations with great staff that receive financial and volunteer support from ordinary people who have carried on this campaign quietly and effectively in the seceding decades.
Here's a small sampling of the many organizations directly or indirectly serving the very poor in America: Advancement Project, Appleseed, Center for Community Change, Children's Defense Fund, National Associations of Community Health Centers, National Association of Social Workers. I encourage Zakaria to seek these and many more organizations out, report on their efforts, and if he is so inclined, give them financial support.
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