What do Congressional representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL), and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) have in common? Each of them has taken time to comment on the predicament of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, but none of them has mentioned the fact that the average unemployed person has now (as of May) been out of work for a whopping 40 weeks.
Somehow, our Democratic leaders have allowed themselves to get caught up in the minutiae of the misadventures of their clearly disturbed colleague, without referencing the economic disturbances that too many Americans are living through. Should they have said nothing and risk the ire of Republicans? Probably not. But I'd have liked to hear Congressional leaders say that Mr. Weiner's problems are simply not the nation's most pressing problems. As Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) mentioned, Weiner's actions, however reprehensible, are not law breaking. But there ought to be a law against fiddling while Rome burns, running our economy to the ground and doing absolutely nothing about it.
President Obama is being blamed for this economy, and he is in the position of attempting to fight a war without any weapons. With stimulus, he could do more job creation, but with a debt ceiling looming (and no action taken on that) there is no money for job creation. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has little to offer – the federal funds rate is so low that he can't dare lower it again, and the Quantitative Easing (QE2) program designed to pump $600 billion in the economy is coming to a close with $50 billion of Treasury Bills being purchased this month. All President Obama and Chairman Bernanke are left with are the bully pulpit, the microphone, and the power to urge the private sector to get involved in job creation. There are no more policy tools to stimulate job creation, yet this is our nation's most pressing problem. If Democrats don't watch out, the whole lot of them will be turned out from Congress a year or so from now. Yet leaders have been caught up in debilitating distractions instead of essential urgencies.
Dr. Ron Daniels, of the institute of the Black World, has referenced "non urgent emergencies." His comments quite clearly capture the national condition. We are in economic crisis, but paralyzed by partisanship, unable to deal with it. Instead, we are caught up in the minutiae that emerge from the 24-hour news cycle and by our own prurient curiosity about other people's business.
It is tempting to blame the debilitating distractions on the media, but the fact is that "the media" is as capitalistically driven as every other institution in our nation. If we didn't watch garbage, they would not broadcast garbage. If we collectively said that we are not interested in those members of Congress who behave badly personally, focusing more importantly on those who behave badly professionally, the media would let it go. Congressman Weiner ought to be the fodder of the late night talks that feature comedians like Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, not serious conversations on programs like Meet the Press.
I am far more disturbed about the state of our economy than I am about these men behaving badly. After all, don't we get at least one every season? And don't we spend millions of dollars (see John Edwards) attempting to indict those with poor judgment, instead of using those millions, perhaps, to generate some jobs. What if we put all of the debilitating distractions on "never mind"? What if we failed to be titillated by grown folks acting like adolescents, and instead got agitated by the economic challenges so many of our fellow Americans face.
If you have a job, can you imagine being unemployed for 40 weeks? Forty weeks is almost 10 months; about the same amount of time it takes for someone to gestate a baby. Most people don't have enough savings to take them through 40 weeks of unemployment, so how do they survive? Suppose these were the stories that led the news, not this Weiner thing. Come on, people! Can't we get our priorities straight? If we made the economy a populist issue, our Congress would feel more motivated to deal with it.
I am not suggesting any abdication of morality, but I am suggesting that there is a morality that says we should feed the hungry, clothe the naked, employ the jobless, house the homeless. This is the essential morality, the Biblical morality that says we should treat others the way we would like to be treated. That means we must look at those who are economically disadvantaged with more scrutiny than we choose to look at those who are woefully and publicly morally flawed.
Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.