President Barack Obama is adept at walking a tightrope. That's what he did last week when he talked about the budget, chastising both Democrats and Republicans. He spoke to the need for government to stand in the gap for the needy even as he understood the ramifications of the Ryan budget. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc), chair of the House Budget Committee, is bound and determined to reduce the size of government. He will do it on the backs of the poor and the needy, and he will, if he has his way, eviscerate the role that government plays in providing a safety net for those at the bottom.
President Obama has to negotiate all of this. He is in charge, but then he isn't. His bosses, the folks that he has to run stuff by, are not in his corner. He can't appoint a cabinet member without getting approval from people who have openly said they are not in his corner. He has veto power, but there are but so many vetoes he can manage. He is in charge, he is not in charge.
Let's add, or let's not add, the matter of race. These Tea Party people seem committed to ideas and ideals, but there is a race component to the ways that they approach this president. When people say they want to take our country back, I wonder what they want to take it back to, especially when there is this celebration of the Civil War that I, frankly, cannot understand. Why are we celebrating renegade states that chose to leave our union because they felt that strongly about slavery? Is there no sensitivity to those who are descendents of slaves?
Back to the budget. Back to the funding cuts. Back to the exaggerations about the many ways we are on a "spending spree". If we tell the truth and shame the devil, former President Bill Clinton racked up a surplus that President Bush spent profligately. And now, in the middle of an economic crisis, when spending is necessary to stimulate the economy, the same Republicans who encouraged the Bush spending are now crying foul.
Those Republicans who are toeing the line on spending correctly note that we are borrowing about 43 cents for every dollar we spend. Yet they don't note that this amount ebbs and flows with the business cycle. Further, programs like the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which hires poor seniors to work and earn, will be cut by nearly half, putting at least 50,000 poor old people out of work. Is this compassionate? Does it reflect our national values? Should it actually occur?
Indeed, if we are really concerned about our budget shouldn't we be creating jobs, not eliminating them. There are 14 million officially unemployed Americans, half of whom have not worked for more than half a year. They are struggling, scrapings, trying their best to survive. And they aren't paying taxes or anything else. Why not put them to work, make an investment in their survival and then, indirectly, in the survival of our nation? Because if we don't put people to work now, there will be nowhere to work later. We are being battered by the rest of the world, and we refuse to make the same investment in the future that they have made. We are like greedy farmers eating our seed corn today instead of investing in tomorrow. And our young people will resent our decisions as we move into the future.
We spend more on the elderly than we do on youth. I am at the age when I look forward to the possibility of social security, but I do not look forward to the possibility that the young person who tends to me in a nursing home will drop me out of the pique she feels that I was part of a generation that did not invest in her future.
Respecting our president, as I do, I understand that he offers, in Cornel West's words, "Hope on a Tightrope". Still, what about our nation's workers? What about our students? What about the young people who have been kicked to the curb by a series of budget choices? What about the elderly poor? Why has defense (which could be called an offense) been taken off the table when we speak of budget cuts?
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women. She is author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History (www.lastwordprod.com).