Have you heard the news, sonny?! The Republicans are concerned about poverty! It must be true, because everybody’s talking about it. And the Republicans are making speeches! But they aren’t interested in little things like food and shelter and, you know, education. They are interested in dreams. The Republicans want the poor to dream again. After talking to Paul Ryan, Bishop Shirley Holloway said, “Paul wants people to dream again. You don’t dream when you’ve got food stamps.” And they want the poor to dream big. Marco Rubio said, “Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream.” That was quoted in a PBS News Hour article titled without any sense of irony, The War on Poverty: Not Just a Liberal Campaign.
Oh yes! The Republicans care about the poor. That’s why they’re united in cutting extended unemployment benefits. That’s why they’re united in cutting food stamps. That’s why they’re united on leaving the working poor without medical care. And so much more! Matt Yglesias noted of Bishop Holloway’s statement that food stamps prevent dreaming, “Scott Winship, a conservative policy analyst who’s working with Ryan’s staff concede that this kind of thing ‘makes Republicans look like they’re just punishing poor people, which in my experience is a common side-effect of punishing poor people.”
So what we have here, is failure to communicate. And I do mean that. This is just another re-branding effort by the right. Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio both support slashing food stamps and unemployment benefits. But they say a couple of things about allowing the poor to dream and the “liberal” PBS says that conservatives have started their own war on poverty. And it isn’t just PBS. In general, the mainstream media just follow right along. It doesn’t matter what the Republicans do, it’s what they say that matters. So there is failure to communicate. Conservatives lie and the media report those lies as fact. It must be true, Gwen Ifill said it!
Paul Krugman’s column today was, Enemies of the Poor. But even he is being too easy on the conservative movement. He notes, “The point is that a party committed to small government and low taxes on the rich is, more or less necessarily, a party committed to hurting, not helping, the poor.” First, the Republicans are not not not committed to small government; they are committed to big government that helps the rich. But we can talk about that some other time. The point is that hurting the poor is not just some side effect of their ideology. It is a key part of their ideology. And you only have to look at a blog post Krugman wrote today to see this.
In You’re All Losers, he shows that the use of the word “losers” in books has gone up by a factor of four since the 1960s. You see, the problem is that it is a big deal when a Republican politician stands up and says that we have to do something to help the poor. It doesn’t matter that the politician has no actual policy ideas and that it is clear that “helping the poor” really means “hurting the poor.” It’s news! But when a Republican politician says yet again that we are stealing from the “producers” and giving it to the “moochers” that’s not news. No one’s interested in that.
After running in circles trying to put the best spin on all this Republican anti-poverty talk, Jonathan Chait concludes where I started, “If Republicans only care about poverty policy insofar as they can use it to rebrand their party for 2016, it seems fair to conclude that they don’t actually care about it at all.” And indeed they don’t. I would go further. Maybe the real anti-poverty program is to allow all the poor to die quickly. That would be a highly effective program. Of course, being dead is even worse for dreaming than food stamps.