The Spectacle Blog

Conservatives, Poverty, and Race

By on 3.12.14 | 4:37PM

Debate over solutions to poverty has been dominating American politics as of late. Predictably, Democrats have harped on income inequality and have pushed for extensions in unemployment benefits and an increase in the federal minimum wage. Conservatives, in response, have thankfully done more than just voice opposition to these stock, unimaginative policy prescriptions. In fact, since last year, several prominent figures from the Republican ranks, as well as a number of other conservative leaders, have proposed fresh ideas and positive solutions to combat poverty in America.

However, some remain unconvinced. Some, like Steve Patrick Ercolani at The Guardian, see only malicious intent in GOP attempts to fight poverty. This past Monday, Ercolani made the remarkably outrageous—yet unfortunately unsurprising—claim that Republicans are making a big to-do about poverty only because those who are poor are increasingly white.

That's right: Republicans care about only poor whites. They're not trying to win over poor blacks or Latinos. And they obviously don't care about hardship. That would be too good-natured of them.

How inane and banal.

This writer seems to have completely forgotten that this issue has become relevant mostly because this year marks the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's "War on Poverty."

Last summer I witnessed Congressman Paul Ryan chair a committee hearing on "The War on Poverty: A Progress Report." According to Ryan and objective data, the entire effort has clearly failed in lifting poor individuals out of poverty, and in many cases, it has made the problem worse. 

But Republican focus on the issue doesn't end there. Back in November, Senator Mike Lee emphasized the need for rebuilding the civil institutions—families, churches, sports teams, PTAs, and so on—that provide the support individuals need to rise out of poverty. Then in January, Senator Marco Rubio spoke on the benefits of turning federal anti-poverty programs over to the states. Ryan, who for more than a year has been meeting with the poor throughout the country, echoed Rubio by highlighting specific reforms that have been implemented in different places and that have been proven to work.

And the issue is not just attracting attention from Republican lawmakers who have to worry about appealing to certain voters and getting elected. In February, Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, articulated a conservative case for social justice. In a 5,500-word essay, Brooks presented these views in an attempt to promote "transformation, relief, and opportunity" for the poor through faith, family, community, work, and education.

The issue doesn't seem to be fizzling out on the right. Just last week, Ryan released a full report from the House Budget Committee on exactly where and how the "War on Poverty" has failed the poorest among us. And at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, former senator Rick Santorum spoke at length about the necessity of reaching out to "working Americans"—the job holders and those trying to find work, not just the job creators and those trying to start a business.

It is plainly evident that a substantial portion of the conservative leadership is concerned about the poor and has fighting poverty as a top priority.

But then again, for some people like Steve, it's easier to just believe they're racists.

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