Remember poverty? It was once a chief preoccupation of the Democratic Party. Lyndon Johnson made war on it. An entire ecosystem of federal, state and local programs has been created over the course of the past half-century to combat it, costing taxpayers more than $1 trillion annually.
Yet the Democratic Party seems to have forgotten the poor. The proposal to increase the minimum wage by a few dollars is trifling compared with the vaunting ambitions of the War on Poverty. Sargent Shriver, Johnson's poverty czar, predicted that welfare state programs would eliminate poverty by 1976. Throughout the post-Great Society era, Democrats proclaimed that the persistence of poverty was a moral stain on the nation.
What happened to that spirit? Every other sentence out of the mouths of President Barack Obama and other progressive Democrats seems to invoke the "middle class," and when they're not promising to help the middle class, they're obsessing about how to humble the rich. In the past two weeks, the left's preoccupation with confiscating thy neighbor's goods has been highlighted by two things: The reception of Thomas Piketty's new book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," and the response to rumors that Sen. Elizabeth ("Occupy Wall Street") Warren might run for president. Both have received the full secular saint treatment, reflecting the progressives' almost mob-like eagerness to lay hands on more of the property of the rich. Not for the poor, mind you, but for the "middle class" (translation: themselves).
The great advantage of being a liberal/progressive in America is that you are always judged on your intentions (or stated intentions) and not on results. While the pundits are swooning for Piketty and Warren, may we have even a moment's pause to consider how well Obama's brand of progressivism has done for the poor and middle class?
Poverty has increased under Obama's watch. It ticked up during the recession, which is to be expected and was obviously not a result of Obama's policies. But after the recession ended and after the first much-vaunted "recovery summer" in 2010 and then the second in 2011, poverty continued to climb. The poverty rate has now been stuck at 15 percent for three consecutive years. This is a 50-year high. Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) has increased by 39 percent.
So there are more Americans living in poverty under Obama than under his predecessor. If he were a Republican, this reality would be widely acknowledged. It's better to be a Democrat.