Voters in Ohio, and across the country, have heard much about the middle class from President Obama and Mitt Romney. Both candidates have properly put the limping economy front and center in their campaigns, vowing to champion the economic interests of the middle class.
In terms of politics and policy, that’s a sound strategy. The nation can’t fully recover without a healthy middle class to consume the products of a growing economy.
Even so, the people of Ohio, including the more than 1.7 million of them who live in poverty, have heard appallingly little about those outside the economic mainstream. The needs and aspirations of the poor have been practically ignored in this presidential campaign.
The first debate tonight, focusing on the economy, offers the nominees a chance to speak to them and offer specifics about how the nation can fairly cut the deficit while lifting more of its 46 million poor citizens out of poverty.
More than 15 percent of Ohioans live in poverty, compared with about 10 percent a decade ago. Maybe the nation isn’t ready for another War on Poverty, but it does need an anti-poverty agenda that includes affordable housing, earned-income tax credits, adequate public assistance, job training and education, public works projects, and better mass transit. And, of course, good-paying jobs.
Mr. Romney seems nearly clueless about poverty. His remarks, or gaffes, about the poor suggest near-scorn.
The President seems content to follow a policy of benign neglect. While making appeals to the middle class, however you define it, Mr. Obama rarely uses the bully pulpit of his campaign to talk about the nation’s entrenched poverty and growing inequality.
All Americans have a stake in this. Everyone pays for lost productivity, wasted potential, crime, poor health, and costs of incarceration and public assistance that accompany poverty.
The nation, and its economy, can’t move forward with tens of millions of its people left behind. President Obama and Mr. Romney can, and should, show the nation tonight that they care about not only the middle class, but also those who are struggling to enter it.