The Burnishing, Part II: In Which Mr Ryan Declares War on the War on Poverty
[Source image by the brilliant Terry Gilliam of Monty Python]
Paul Ryan has some big decisions to make in the near term, one of them being, of course, whether or not he’d like to be the Leader of the Free World. Because he is a Big Ideas man, Ryan has most likely realized that if he wants to go for it, he’ll have to rid himself of the lingering scent of eau de Loser that he picked up on the RomneyBus.
To that end, Rep. Ryan is recasting himself as the Neo Compassionate Conservative and the courtier press is only too happy to polish his nibs. The Washington Post, which appears to be willing to cast its nets further and further offshore, in these post-print days, kicked off #RyanMania with a verbose and glowing fanzine profile of Paul Ryan, Champion of the Poor, last month.
BuzzFeed trumped that with Paul Ryan, Man of God more recently.
Here’s National Review‘s Bob Costa back in June:
The rule is that no one outside of Ryan’s inner circle should know, especially the Beltway press, which Ryan has mostly avoided since the election. For him, the weekend trips to church basements and homeless shelters are part of his political rehabilitation, as well as an effort to rebrand his party
But, now, closer to Party time, Paul’s Big Secret like all political conversions, leaks out in the end and we learn that The Ryan Mission involves moving:
. . . Republicans away from the angry, nativist inclinations of the tea party movement and toward the more inclusive vision of his mentor, the late Jack Kemp.
As part of that mission, Ryan:
has been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods” to “talk to ex-convicts and recovering addicts about the means of their salvation” to inform “an anti-poverty program to rival his budgetary Roadmap for America’s future in scope and ambition.
Does this mean that Ryan assumes that crime and drugs are what make people poor? or that reformed criminals and addicts are experts on escaping poverty?
At any rate, Ryan and his staff have “…been trolling center-right think tanks and intellectuals for ideas to replace the “bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs” that Ryan blames for “wrecking families and communities” since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964.”
OK, now things are starting to come into focus . . .
And then there’s the “Pope Effect” which is considerable given that Ryan is a Catholic Man of Big Ideas.
As McKay Coppins put it:
. . . many in the GOP have watched in awe as the pontiff has taken an aging institution drowning in dogma and at risk of irrelevancy, and revitalized its image by lowering his voice and carrying out a few well-chosen symbolic gestures. Republicans are looking for their own Pope Francis — and many believe Ryan should be the one to take on that mantle.
Moreover, Pete Flaherty, a Romney campaign advisor notes:
What Pope Francis is doing is, instead of changing Catholicism, he’s changing the way the world views Catholicism… And I think Paul has the opportunity to do something similar for conservatism
Certainly that notion dovetails nicely with the GOP’s firm belief that Republican policy is just fine, as it stands. It’s only the message that needs jiggering.
So what are Paul Ryan’s Big New Ideas for saving the poor? are you ready? are you sitting down? tax credits, block grants for safety net programs in the states, vouchers and volunteerism. Sound familiar?
And who, in the trenches, is helping Ryan figure all of this out? Catholic ministries to the poor? the Nuns on the Bus? the Jesuit faculty of Georgetown University who told Ryan, last year, just what they thought of his budget plan?
Nope. Bob Woodson, Sr is Paul Ryan’s guide to the “belly of the beast.”
According to the Washington Post Paean to Paul:
Since February, Ryan (R-WI) has been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods with another old [Jack] Kemp ally, Bob Woodson, the 76-year-old civil rights activist and anti-poverty crusader, to talk to ex-convicts and recovering addicts about the means of their salvation.
What the Post writer and the others who jumped on the bandwagon forgot to mention about Bob Woodson, anti-poverty crusader, is that he is a staunch conservative and founder and CEO of the Center For Neighborhood Enterprise, a tax exempt anti-poverty organization with a K Street address that receives most of its funding from federal government grants.
Many of those grants come from the Department of Health and Human Services and close to $300,000/yr of it compensates Mr Woodson for his work among the poor.
Woodson’s Center For Neighborhood Enterprise has been around since 1981 and it’s Founding Principles are:
1) Low-income individuals and neighborhood-based organizations should play a central role in the design and implementation of programs to address the problems of their communities;
2) An effective approach to societal problems must be driven by the same principles that function in the market economy, recognizing the importance of competition, entrepreneurship, cost efficiency, and an expectation of return on investment; and
3) Value-generating and faith-based initiatives are uniquely qualified to address problems of poverty that are related to behavior and life choices.
Woodson is going to be Paul Ryan’s helper in “gather(ing) community leaders for an event next year, and to help him compare the results of their work with the 78 means-tested programs that have cost the federal government $15 trillion since 1964.” Which is one of the Cato Institutes pet talking points.
See where we’re going here?
Paul Ryan has found a high profile Black conservative to stamp an imprimatur on the larger GOP’s stereotyping and victim-blaming attitude toward the poor and, at the same time, promote the micro-level up-by-the-bootstraps self-help agenda that will allow Republicans to wash their hands of domestic social problems for high-minded spiritual reasons.
I’m sure that Bob Woodson will be happy to help Ryan promote his tough love vision for the poor. Here’s Ryan recently not-campaigning to a Des Moines rally:
Washington has gummed up the works. It’s made it harder for people to get ahead, and the idea of upward mobility, of equal opportunity, is slipping farther and farther away from people who haven’t seen it for generations. . . . We can restore America as the party of equal opportunity to show how these ideas can prevail.
Keep in mind, this is a party that theoretically spent the past year learning how to repair the image that it simply doesn’t care about people. But it still looks like the GOP is counting on average Americans to be too thick to see through their tactics.
Historian Bruce Bartlett, who worked for Ryan’s mentor, Jack Kemp, but eventually lost faith in the modern GOP says:
They want to care. But they’re so imprisoned by their ideology that they can’t offer anything meaningful.
Here’s how the Center for Economic and Policy Research puts it:
What passes for conservative thinking on poverty today basically amounts to little more than repeated calls to slash effective social insurance programs that other conservatives played a major role in establishing or expanding, like Social Security Disability Insurance (Dwight D. Eisenhower), food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (Richard Nixon), and the Earned Income Tax Credit (Bill Clinton). My advice to any thoughtful conservatives who actually want move beyond a poverty agenda that amounts to little more than financing tax cuts for the rich on the backs of the working class: stop listening to what places like Cato or Heritage have to say about poverty, forget about Bob Woodson and Charles Murray. In short, stop living in the 1980s.
Pretty good advice . . .