GOP Shooting Blanks In The War On Poverty
Today, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) submitted a post to RealClearPolitics.com entitled “Why the War on Poverty Failed & How We Can Win It.” Let me spare you any undue excitement—he never really got around to detailing either.
Evidently. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has stepped away from his somewhat embarrassing stint as front-man for the GOP’s “50 Years of Fail” concern trolling over the fact that, despite the War On Poverty program there are still poor people. That leaves the position open for some newbie back-benchers to cut their teeth on.
Whatever . . . Rokita has picked up the torch but appears to be having a little trouble keeping it lit. As we know from past encounters, Rep. Rokita is a bit of a wag—you might remember him as the chauvinist swashbuckler who reprimanded CNN journalist Carol Costello about her barbed questions during last Fall’s government shutdown, saying “Carol, you’re beautiful, but you have to be honest as well.”
Or that time, in 2007, when, while encouraging Republicans to appeal to more African-American voters, Rokita cited the statistic that 90% of African-Americans vote Democratic then asked:
How can that be? Ninety to ten. Who’s the master and who’s the slave in that relationship? How can that be healthy?
You get the picture . . . so Todd starts out waggish:
Fine, I admit it, you caught us red-handed—the Republican Party is the party of the “rich.”
Plod on through five-or-so more paragraphs of RNC talking points to arrive at what must qualify as The Answer, at least to Rep. Rokita’s mind, as to “WHY THE WAR ON POVERTY FAILED!!”
But as John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things,” and there are facts no one at the hearing can dispute. Not in dispute is the $800 billion of hard-earned money confiscated annually from American taxpayers to spend on nearly 100 federal programs designed to fight poverty. To date, we have spent $20 trillion on the War on Poverty. $20 trillion.
Those are, indeed, facts—or at least numbers—but I’m still not getting a reason for failure . . . or even an Aha! moment . . . for that matter.
What I mean is, a big price tag isn’t a “failure” in and of itself, is it? The F-35 program, for example, has cost $400 billion over 7 years but that high price doesn’t make it a “failure” otherwise Rep. Rokita and his colleagues would have pulled the plug on that project long ago because they HATE overspending so much. It’s not until you get to the part about how the F-35 isn’t safe and doesn’t work that a few eyebrows might be raised.
Oh well, maybe the “fail” parts are further along:
Also not in dispute are the results of those federal efforts: 46.5 million people living in poverty today, the highest in a generation, and a record number of those living in deep poverty. People in deep poverty are so far from climbing the upward-mobility ladder that they cannot even see the bottom rung. It’s time for us to face the truth head on—we have messed up a big thing very badly, as any federal bureaucracy or elitist idea is predisposed to do.
So I guess Rep. Rokita’s sole reason for declaring the War On Poverty a failure is: it is an “elitist idea” predisposed to fail. How could we all have been so naive for 50 years? until the bright Young Guns came along with Ayn Rand tucked under their arms, to show us the error of our ways?
“But there is hope,” Rep. Rokita tells us, because the House Budget Committee has hosted several
revivals meetings during which the GOP’s go-to God-based poverty experts Bob Woodson and flamboyant Faith Healer, Bishop Shirley Holloway, have shown them the way.
Why, Rep. Rokita even visited the Kokomo Rescue Mission which helps 250 people each day:
And it does so with a focus on breaking the cycle of dependency that has trapped so many since the War on Poverty began. They succeed because people want to know that those offering help actually care about them, as opposed to being a number in a system. This is what I mean by “love.”
So finally we come to the point where Rep. Rokita reveals the long-awaited solution for our nation’s poverty problems!! And here, all along, it was the magical properties of L-O-V-E! Who wouldn’t rather have a lunch lovingly packed in a brown paper bag, than nasty old, soul-sapping food stamps?
If we are truly to win the “war,” we must empower, commend, and emulate the work of the Kokomo Rescue Mission, and that of people like Mr. Woodson and Bishop Holloway. The federal government is simply unequipped and too far removed to take care of these matters. The government cannot love a neighbor, and that is why it has failed to solve the problem of poverty.
I hate to be picky but, actually, that is not a statement of fact—it is a statement of faith. If religion-based solutions are the answer, what exactly are religious institutions waiting for? Why are there still so many poor people if religious organizations have had the answer all along? What do they do with the $82 billion a year that they don’t pay in taxes? It’s certainly not going toward feeding the poor—church-affiliated food pantries contribute only 4% of all food relief for America’s poor people. They must figure that feeding hungry people will not “break the cycle of dependency” . . .?
And, what exactly, is Rep. Rokita referring to when he says we “must empower” such agencies? does he mean give them our blessing? give them money? allow them to operate without regulation?
If you happen to be a person who thinks that religion might be the answer to national poverty, don’t expect that solution to lessen your own tax burden because what Rep. Rokita is not telling you about Mr Woodson’s solution is the part about the “vouchers” that the poor would receive from our out-of-control spendthrift government to pay the likes of Mr Woodson for their uplifting services and love—with taxpayer dollars.
Which sounds like “empowerment” alright—empowerment of the Religious Right. The privatization of social policy and programs in which the Church and State inextricably become “partners” in a poverty-busting enterprise which monetizes the poor! a Theocrat’s dream come true!
In May, 2014, on the occasion of Paul Ryan’s opening salvo in the Republican War on Poverty, Stephanie Mencimer wrote a terrific, in-depth article that appeared in Mother Jones detailing some of the things that are wrong with the GOP’s “plan” to address poverty and income inequality and the mentors they have chosen to guide them.
Here’s a longish excerpt but worth it for a valuable insight:
Woodson believes that traditional, governmental approaches to poverty—such as welfare and federal disability—harm the people they’re trying to help. He maintains that’s because the government relies on elitists who claim to know what’s best for the people they serve. “We must be open to accept a new brand of ‘experts’ whose authority lies in their effectiveness rather than in professional accreditation or advanced academic degrees,” he wrote in his 1998 book, The Triumphs of Joseph.
The concept sounds good in theory, especially to Republicans who are ideologically opposed to entitlement programs and government bureaucracy. But Woodson’s anti-elitist worldview has led him to champion some offbeat “experts.” One of them is Shirley Holloway, who testified alongside Woodson last Wednesday.
Holloway is a fourth-generation minister and former US Postal Service employee who preaches at her own non-denominational church in Maryland. She runs several faith-based programs aimed at drug addicts, the homeless, and domestic violence victims. Ryan visited her Washington, DC-based residential program in November. Her ministry doesn’t rely on mental health professionals, but it does entail faith-healing . . .
Many of the programs Woodson has introduced Ryan to have a strong, charismatic religious component. This includes a men’s “boot camp” Ryan recently visited, which is run by Indianapolis’ Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church. In this case, “boot camp” stands for “Because Of Others Testimonies Christ Answered My Prayer,” and the program focuses on marriage counseling, drug treatment, and job training. Ryan called it a “blueprint” for “rebuilding men.”
Woodson think the federal government should encourage faith-based programs by allowing people to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for their services and also by exempting these outfits from licensing requirements and other regulations. But some of the operations he has championed seemingly show the need for more oversight, not less. Among them is an organization called Teen Challenge, a drug and alcohol recovery program associated with Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination whose services feature parishioners speaking in tongues.
Teen Challenge considers addiction a manifestation of sin that must be treated with religion. There have been reports of the program performing exorcisms and the internet is full of “survivor” accounts by former clients who found Teen Challenge to be little more than a form of coercive religious indoctrination.
What Republicans are ignoring is that most of the 50 million Americans living below the poverty line, today, are not lazy, drug-addled, satan-posessed, morally-challenged societal dropouts in need of the services of a “rescue mission.”
Most of them are victims of irrational economic and social policies pushed by conservatives over the last 40 years or so . . . that have resulted in income stagnation and a plutocratic tax structure which taxes the middle class to reward the wealthy.
If Rep. Rokita is serious about getting to the bottom of our poverty problem he might want to read through The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality’s recently released 2014 report. Just to be, you know, fair and balanced? Maybe if it’s sent in a “plain brown wrapper” he won’t immediately dismiss it as elitist liberal university propaganda . . .
Here’s the gist of it in one neat graph:
In the U.S., the top earners have made more money in the last 60 years as the top marginal tax rate has been slashed and as the rising dominance of Wall Street has allowed a few to make enormous profits.
An OECD study in 2013 found that the U.S. had the highest income inequality in the developed world. Out of all nations, only Chile, Mexico and Turkey had higher levels of income inequality, according to the study.
So what does this all mean in actual dollars? It means that more than half of U.S. wage earners made less than $30,000 in 2012, which is not far above the $27,010 federal poverty line for a family of five. Meanwhile, the top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income in 2012.
There’s your major Fail, Rep. Rokita. Got any ideas about how to fix that? that don’t involve speaking in tongues? or neglecting the reality-based job of representing your constituents?
Your 4th district constituency is 91% white, 14% of whom are currently living below the poverty level. They don’t need drug rehab, Bible lessons or Men’s Boot Camp—they need jobs that pay real wages. And wealthy neighbors who pay taxes. And representatives who represent their actual interests and needs.
To quote a political wag: Todd, you’re young and powerful, but you have to be honest as well.