One of my college memories came from a class that required students to spend a day doing "blue collar" work. My "work" at a Columbia textile mill was grueling, demanding and left me covered in enough white lint to really make me look like a "Gamecock"!
The people I met that day were kind and patient with my intrusion into their workplace, and one of them said something that stuck with me - "You'll get a taste of my job today, but you won't know my life unless you have to pay bills and feed your family on my salary."
I thought of that when I read The Post and Courier's account of the day that Sen. Tim Scott spent riding a CARTA bus, bagging groceries, waiting tables, and sweeping floors for "real world" experience before introducing legislation to expand school choice for children with disabilities, military families and families of modest means, and to streamline services and job training for low-income workers, individuals with disabilities and at-risk youth.
I appreciate Sen. Scott's intent, celebrate his rise from humble circumstances to political influence and find worth in some of his ideas. The last portion of the story and his subsequent opinion column, however, were troubling.
He noted that similar proposals are being made by other congressional Republicans, lamented Democratic opposition to those proposals and said, "The real question is how we can get Sen. Harry Reid to allow a vote to go forward on anything," and he pronounced the "War on Poverty" to be lost because many citizens still live in poverty.
The real question, in my opinion, is not how to get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow a vote to go forward, but when those in Congress will act in a mature, earnest and bipartisan manner for the good of all citizens.
That hasn't often happened in the current Congress. Those in the GOP have refused to consider the merit of any proposals other than their own, opposed everything proposed by President Obama, gleefully shut down the government and threatened our nation's creditworthiness out of their determination to have their way.
There's nothing wrong with healthy political disagreement that allows people of good will and intent to have their say and "meet in the middle."
The GOP advocates private-sector solutions to our nation's inequities and the creation of equality through private-sector opportunity alone. The Democrats don't categorically reject that view, but also see a governmental need to assure that those at the bottom of the ladder of opportunity don't fall off as they climb and have an equal, legally protected chance to climb with a decent wage.
The governmental programs that are labeled the "War on Poverty" currently reflect both of those positions. They don't hinder achievement and have, as they have evolved, added assurances that their beneficiaries must seek employment.
That evolution resulted from bipartisan cooperation, which affirms the worth of work and the role of the private sector, but also notes that a rising "free market" tide still leaves some citizens stranded in low wage jobs and impoverished circumstances.
All of our elected officials should promote opportunity and provide security for those seeking opportunity. That requires more than political gamesmanship and sporadic, symbolic "caring." Government must build infrastructure and provide incentives for businesses to locate not just in Greenville County, but also in Allendale County, so that Allendale County mothers won't have to be "bused" to Hilton Head Island to clean hotel rooms on a daily basis and get home too late to help their children with homework because there are few jobs close to home.
We can fix that through bipartisan cooperation and fight the "War on Poverty" on two fronts - enhancing business development and employment, while acknowledging that failure to assure the well-being of and create equal opportunity for all citizens is like fighting a modern war with Civil War muskets instead of M-16 rifles.
When Democrats and Republicans go beyond political gamesmanship, come to the table of political compromise in mutual respect, disavow inflammatory and divisive rhetoric and craft solutions that reflect the best elements of their respective positions, we can make progress in the "War on Poverty" and achieve broad based, tangible and equitable prosperity.
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
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