Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Missed Opportunity Debate

Following the Cleveland debate the other night, the media bobble-heads are a-twitter about the Farrakhan question, Hillary's blame game, Russert's inane hypotheticals, health care mandates, etc. I would submit that these stories miss the real tragedy of that final debate. Here is the deal:

I grew up in Cleveland and am a proud Clevelander. Cleveland is in my blood. That written, Cleveland is one of the poorest cities in the country. A full one-third of the population lives in poverty. The sub-prime loan crisis has hit Cleveland's poor communities and communities of color harder than any other city in the nation. In fact, Cleveland has a a proud and distinguished black middle class community... but it has been ravaged by predatory corporate lenders who purposefully targeted communities of color and working-class communities for quick profits. Foreclosures in Cleveland have sky-rocketed. The American dream has turned into a nightmare for thousands of good, decent, hardworking residents. In short, what I am saying is that the debate in Cleveland could have been, and should have been, a show-case discussion of the ongoing urban crisis in America. Cleveland is ground zero for that crisis and it is the dirty little secret no one wants to talk about. We get distracted in cities like Cleveland, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere, by new ballparks and flashy downtown condos and restaurants, and forget that massive inequalities remain in each of those places. Instead of the same old questions that have been hashed and rehashed at 20 (yes, 20!) debates, instead of stupid gotcha questions, why not actually raise some vital and substantive new issues that speak to one of the biggest crises facing the nation? Why not ask the candidates to address the predatory subprime crisis? Why not ask them what they will do to revitalize communities like Cleveland where industry has left and one-third of the population is poor? Why not ask them what they will do about a public education system that is segregated? Why not ask what they might do to address police brutality in poor communities of color? Why not ask them ANYTHING about this crisis!!!???!!!??

This is, I think, the great failing of the debate the other night. More than Hillary's shrill tone. More than Russert's ridiculous hypotheticals. More than Obama's "Farrakhan problem." Shame on all of them for not speaking up while sitting at the epicenter of urban decay. This reveals something terrible about ourselves and our society... that we are willing to tolerate this urban crisis and the wide-spread human destruction that is its product.

This makes my heart very heavy... I love Cleveland, but it is dying.

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