When this marathon political campaign finally comes to a close - assuming it will someday - the greatest challenge facing this nation will remain the gap between the haves and the have nots.
Expert observers regardless of their party label see an eventual end to the war in Iraq. Equally expert observers recognize that someday our obsessive dependence on foreign oil will diminish. But no one at any level of government has a clue how to lift a growing population out of the throes of poverty and the total dependence on government in some form or fashion. No one!
I honestly would not know where to begin to calculate with any accuracy the amount of money expended in this country to help the less fortunate. That itself is a gross over-generalization because, quite simply, some of those receiving the help are parasites who know how to "game" the system much better than those who design the programs. But leaving that aside, the amount spent in the name of assistance to the less privileged is astronomical. I'm going to guess the figure starts with a "t," as in trillions. Dispute that guesstimate if you dare.
Now before you get your britches in a wad let me clearly state I support any and all programs that help those less fortunate IF those programs can prove beneficial and effective. Housing, food, medical, transportation programs lead the list of those services that are essential for those unable - not unwilling - to provide for themselves. The numbers in need are abundant. But so are the programs designed to meet those needs.
But my problem is a simple one. If after decades of government spending, after countless new programs, after siphoning gazillions of tax dollars, why have we not eliminated the massive issue of poverty? Ok, why have we not even made a dent in the problem?
Sen. Barack Obama has a great catch-line on the political trail these days. It's truly brilliant. Obama waits for the crowds to reach a fevered pitch and he says, "The Republicans want you to pick yourself up by your boot straps, even if you don't have boots." The crowds roar with approval as they picture the cruel Republicans expecting those in need to do the impossible.
But what if the government has already bought your boots for you? And they have. So what's wrong with expecting some level of responsibility and initiative and improved choices in return for the programs designed to provide the most important and essential services of life?
And therein lies the central issue. The war on poverty is an abysmal failure. It has delivered the goods but not the results. More money than you could possible count has been provided to more people than you want to count and the results are less that stellar. And that's being generous.
We want to think of poverty as the single mother with two kids struggling to make ends meet. And our hearts go out to that population and we rightfully want to give Christian charity as an individual and a society. And we should.
But in far too many instances that poverty dollar goes to an individual with a cell phone in one hand, a 40 ounce beer in the other and an attitude to match. It's those dollars that I resent.
As the politicians of all stripes are proud to say - it's not a handout, it's a hand-up. I hear those words but my eyes tell me different.
I don't begrudge one single dollar given to those truly in need. If only our federal government could address the issue of poverty more effectively. Then those in need could find that path out of poverty and those taxpayers who provide the funds could have some assurance that their efforts are not in vain.