GOP Rep Says No Poor Folks in N.C.

By Don Rollins

In the shadow of downtown Raleigh’s tallest buildings – ironically belonging to two of the nation’s Big Box Banks, Wells Fargo and PNC – live the street folks.

There is a line half a block long at the nearby agency that provides food, medical care and temporary housing for battered women. A thin, frail man has pitched a tent on the deck behind the church I serve. I know these folks aren’t really poor because George Cleveland says so.

Any way you cut it, state Rep. George Cleveland (R) is a trip. Decent head of silver hair and thick black glasses a la Spencer Tracy in Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, he’s the kooky cat that famously declared North Carolina free of “extreme poverty.” As in there ain’t none.

In a series of March (on the record) statements, Cleveland was feeling just enough uber-conservative mojo to say the government’s poverty lines aren’t for real. They don’t account for housing subsidies, Medicaid or food stamps. Total it up and turns out those pre-K, hill country and urban kids slurping up the free milk are just taking Tar Heel taxpayers for a ride. Amazing. And it gets better.

Once the media ran with the “No Poverty” tag line, you might have expected a little damage control spin from a four-term congressman; but none was forthcoming. Matter of fact the guy went the full Monty on the states worst off, saying that their standard of living is better than they might find in other countries.

Even in an angry age such as ours, this is colossal and public callousness on the order of the Reagan Administration’s directive to count ketchup as a school cafeteria vegetable. (Look it up, whippersnappers. True story.) Whereas most of his budget-busting GOP running buddies have enough wits to pound on the poor and marginalized from the relative safety of the state house floor and dark paneled rooms, George Cleveland went open book, if not an open mind.

But blithe though Cleveland’s very public words certainly were, what’s most disturbing – and perhaps most telling – is that they pushed the state’s Republican narrative of poverty from “It’s your own damn fault” toward “You’re invisible.” From shame to the only thing more dehumanizing: non-existence.

Poverty in America is defined as $22,050 per year for a family of four.

Extreme poverty in North Carolina, $11,000 or less per year for that same family. But in the mind of at least one elected public servant, we do not define poverty at all.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Raleigh, N.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2012

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