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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The latest fad among would-be Republican presidential contenders is to proclaim their deep commitment to fighting poverty and inequality – which sounds as plausible as a promise by McDonald’s to abolish greasy food.

Decades of abuse of the nation’s poor and working families, which reached a crescendo in Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” campaign in 2012, hasn’t left much space for Republicans to follow the public morality of Pope Francis. Yet for the moment at least, they seem to think that they must.

They also seem to believe that reminiscing about bread-bag overshoes, like Senator Joni Ernst, or jeering the wealth of the Clintons, like RNC chair Reince Priebus, will somehow transform them into Franciscan populists. But such delusional ploys only make them look ridiculous.

So in the gracious spirit of the pontiff, who told us that even atheists can be saved, let’s help our Republican brothers and sisters.

Actually, there is a very easy way for people like Romney, his former running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, Gov. Chris Christie, Senator Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and every kindred right-wing politician to start reforming themselves. First, they just have to stop doing almost everything they’ve done for the past 10 or 20 years.

Just stop.

Stop smooching the behind of every predatory billionaire who shows up with an open checkbook and a loud opinion, from the Koch brothers and Paul Singer to Jerry Jones and Sheldon Adelson.

Stop pretending that the best way to reduce inequality – or poverty – is to lavish more trillions of tax breaks on those very same billionaires, as the infamously plutocratic Ryan budget would. Do they really think every blustering donor at the very top of the income scale needs another million dollars? Stop defending capital gains loopholes, offshore accounts, and all the other scams that rig the game for the likes of Romney.

Stop snatching bread from the mouths of small children and their mothers, with gratuitous cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance and WIC programs, as if that would appreciably reduce the federal deficit — or be worth the moral cost even if it did. The Ryan budget proposes to reduce food stamps by 20 percent or more, which would mean either terminating benefits for millions or reducing benefits below their already meager level. (It would be interesting to see how the Wisconsin Republican and bodybuilder got by on $1.40 per meal.)

Stop ripping up unemployment checks for families whose lack of remunerative work Republicans have always blamed on Barack Obama, not them. Unemployment insurance kept at least 2.5 million Americans, including hundreds of thousands of kids, above the poverty line in recent years. If joblessness truly isn’t the workers’ fault, why decimate them and their children?

Stop rejecting Medicaid, the literal lifeline for poor Americans who have no other health coverage. And stop “repealing” the Affordable Care Act, whose actual repeal would cruelly end coverage for tens of millions of Americans – and in some cases, end their lives.

Stop undermining Medicare and Social Security, the two most successful anti-poverty programs in the nation’s history, which have vastly reduced the impoverishment and early mortality of elderly Americans. And stop telling voters that the endless attempts to cut, privatize, block grant, and otherwise diminish those programs is how you intend to “save” them.

Stop legislating cutbacks in Pell Grants, federal student loans, and other assistance to young people from modest backgrounds — whose educational advancement lifts them toward greater financial security and independence. Anyone who honestly cares about reducing inequality supports aid for higher education.

And please stop mouthing so much meaningless, self-flattering rhetoric on this vital issue — as Romney did when he assured the Republican National Committee that “Republican principles” will “break the cycle of poverty.”

Sorry, but that hasn’t been true under any Republican administration for the past hundred years. Instead, Republicans should consider the unpleasant but undeniable fact that unemployment and poverty have increased every time a president of their party occupied the White House.

Then, by all means, they should get back to us with those “conservative” plans to end poverty. Someone might even believe it.

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