Republicans fear their anti-poverty message could cloud their pro-poverty message
The Washington Examiner’s Bryon York wants to know why some high-profile Republicans — Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Mike Lee — have decided to tell people that they care about poverty now.
He’s not wondering this because the GOP doesn’t actually have a anti-poverty agenda or because these guys are all opposing one of the most basic anti-poverty measures the government can take: extending emergency unemployment benefits. It’s not even because the GOP’s very favorite thing of the last decade — the Ryan Budget — is a recipe for moving millions into poverty.
He’s wondering this because he thinks it’s a losing tactic.
President Obama focused on the middle class to win. Why shouldn’t the GOP?
He doesn’t get that the success of the conservative movement has effectively blurred the lines between the middle class and poverty.
Conservative policies have created record inequality by transferring money to the richest with low tax rates and huge breaks for investment income, by shrinking anti-poverty programs and education spending, by trying to destroy the labor movement.
The Daily Beast‘s Michael Tomasky calls this The War on the War on Poverty. It’s turned the American Dream from “do better than my parents” to “get rich or die trying,” which is conducive to trying to sell struggling people on trickle down policies.
The result of the GOP’s success is a middle class that fears they or their children are closer to poverty than they are to a better life. This anxiety has fueled the Tea Party’s duel focus on preserving government benefits for the Baby Boomers — get your liberal hands off my Medicare — and deficit reduction — why are they helping them when I’m struggling?
This anxiety pervades the debate about long-term unemployment insurance. We all know we are a check or two from poverty. Just as we all know we’re an illness away from bankruptcy.
The success of the conservative movement means that the War on Poverty is now a War to Save the Middle Class.
The GOP has a poverty agenda: create more of it and blame the people stuck in it of laziness and a desire to be coddled.
The conservatives who are trying to pretend they actually want to fight poverty are recognizing that if the public connects conservative policies with the instability of the middle class, there may not be another Republican president in their lifetimes. And that would spoil their American Dream.
[Photo by Anne Savage.]