Politics of Poverty

The great debate and the missing billion

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My non-drinking game for tonight’s debate.

Tonight’s the last debate between President Obama and Governor Romney. This one is advertised as the “foreign policy” debate.

US foreign engagement is often described as resting on a three-legged stool; the three “Ds”. Defense, diplomacy, and development. The Obama administration, and Secretary Clinton in particular, has always emphasized that diplomacy and development are equal partners of the three. In past Presidential debates, US financial contributions to foreign assistance and reducing poverty were occasionally topics. During a 2000 debate, then-Governor Bush and Vice President Gore talked about their views, prodded by a question from Jim Lehrer.

I’m guessing that the last “D”, development, will be missing this time round.

CBS newsman Bob Schieffer will moderate tonight and has announced an agenda with topics ranging from Afghanistan to the Middle East, with a bit of terrorism thrown in. Also China. But no airtime for development, foreign assistance. There’s a lot to talk about, actually; the outstanding progress made on some counts and the terrible failure on others. The fate of initiatives launched by President Bush during his term to address AIDS and new foreign aid programs for poor countries with good governance. The new initiatives launched under President Obama on food security and health.

Some politicians (former and possibly future) still think it’s worth talking about and supporting.

But, in all likelihood, issues that matter to the roughly 1.3 billion people who live in and with poverty—and to the hundreds of millions of US taxpayers who pay for these programs—won’t make an appearance.

To make the debates go better, a lot of my friends play drinking games. They’re generally designed to crystalize and shatter the clichés, pierce the banality, and give life to the predictable.

So, I’ll make a game of it. If either candidate mentions “poverty” or “poor people” or even something close, I’ll give $25 to their campaign. If either candidate makes something like a defense of foreign aid, or talks about US obligations—moral and otherwise—to the least of us, I’ll donate $100.

Should make it more interesting.

Editor’s note:  At 9 pm tonight, hundreds of Oxfam America supporters will raise their voices to change the conversation by calling attention to the fight to end hunger and poverty during the debates. How? By signing up on Thunderclap to tweet and post to Facebook. Join us.  

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