Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cover your eyes and hide the kids: A Republican is talking poverty.

This has not been a pretty picture in the recent past. Who can forget then-South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer likening poor people to animals one feeds from the back door and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning calling them stray raccoons? And let’s not even get into Mitt Romney’s wholesale slander of the so-called “47 percent.”

So one receives with a certain trepidation the news that Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, has issued a proposal aimed at curbing poverty. But Expanding Opportunity in America, produced by the House Budget Committee Ryan chairs, is a surprise — serious, substantive and sprinkled with interesting ideas. Not that you should take that as a blanket endorsement.

We lack the space to analyze it in detail, but in a nutshell, Ryan proposes an “Opportunity Grant,” consolidating federal anti-poverty programs into 50 chunks of money to be administered by each state as it sees fit. The states would be encouraged to experiment and find creative ways of providing the necessary services to their citizens.

This is in keeping with GOP orthodoxy which holds that anything crafted by Washington will lack flexibility to meet the needs in local municipalities and thus it makes more sense to empower states to create programs tailored to their specific conditions.

Some of us are skeptical of the idea that giving states more power is a panacea. Some of us fear all that does is take one problem and turn it into 50. But to his credit, Ryan’s proposal imposes performance standards and requires accountability. It is a blank check, but with strings attached.

One critic, Washington Post blogger (and former Obama administration economic adviser) Jared Bernstein, thinks the proposal reflects the GOP’s “pervasive assumption that all you have to do to get a job is want a job.” In that context, it’s worth noting that Ryan was chastised in March for essentially blaming poverty on the laziness of black and brown men. In a radio interview he lamented “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work…”

This, of course, ignores the fact that most poverty is neither black nor brown, but white. What “tailspin of culture” keeps Appalachia poor? Somehow that question is never addressed. The thing Ryan apparently does not know, but should, is that urban poverty is driven not by a lack of people wanting to work, but by a lack of work — and skills and transportation.

Worse, Ryan cited as an authority Charles Murray, the infamous social scientist (he co-authored The Bell Curve), who argues the intellectual and moral inferiority of black and brown people. Which suggests Ryan, like too many in his party, still needs to wean himself from the noxious notion of poverty as a defect of character or heritage.

All that said, give him credit for what he’s done here.

It is a national disgrace that the problem of poverty has been all but invisible in our culture and politics since the era of Lyndon Johnson. The only politician over that half-century who lifted it to the level of national discourse was John Edwards — and then he went and got his career caught in his zipper.

Thus, one welcomes even this flawed proposal. One hopes it presages renewed GOP interest in an issue the party has largely ceded to the Democrats and spurs us all to reconsider what we can — and should — do to erase the specter of want in a land of plenty. For too long, we have responded to that urgent need only with silence.

So the best thing about Paul Ryan’s proposal is the simple fact that it exists.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])

Photo: Speaker Boehner via Flickr

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

  • Dominick Vila

    It is hard to take Paul Ryan seriously, after all the comments he has made about the poor, ethnic minorities, and his plan to dismantle MEDICARE, but I think it is refreshing to see a Republican leader put forth an idea worth considering.
    I have reservations about the idea of transferring billions of dollars to state Governors, not so much because they are incapable of understanding the needs of the people in their states, but because of their tendency to use their limited funds for causes that instead of benefiting the people are designed to help their wealthy donors. Having said that, if Ryan’s proposal has the appropriate oversight to ensure this huge transfer of funds to the States goes to the right people and for the intended purpose (an improved education system and job creation), it is something worth pursuing, or at least debating. God knows our current system has been less than successful in reducing poverty in America, and helping our most vulnerable citizens overcome the challenges they face.
    We have spent years complaining about Republicans never putting anything constructive on the table. Paul Ryan just did. The time to set partisanship aside is now.

    • charleo1

      For me, when it comes to Paul Ryan suggesting anything having to do with the social safety net. Be it, Medicare, Medicaid, ACA, VA. supplemental nutrition programs, and or, school lunch programs. My first concern goes to trust. Namely, that I have less than zero of it, when it comes to Rep. Ryan. Or, anything that comes out of that Ayn Rand, grotto/mausoleum of his. And I have even less faith in these Red Stated, Cleptocratic Fiefdoms, masquerading as State Govs. to distribute any of the grant monies to the needy, without first running every dollar earmarked four the poor through the network. Where it will wind up funding their usual various pet projects. Building private Bible Schools, and or, paying lawyers to defend their anti abortion/ anti-Gay marriage crusades. Or heck, just handing it out in the name of job creation. A-la carte` Rick Scott style, to the first, “deserving,” crony outfit with a handsome campaign pledge. And we have just too many people right now, on a razor’s edge margin, to be letting someone with Paul Ryan’s reputation for callousness, with a proven record of total disrespect for the plight of the poor, jiggering around, and, “experimenting,” with the programs that literally mean life or death to so many. And besides, he didn’t appoint him to his powerful position because he was know as the Mother Teresa of the Grand Old Plutocrats.

      • docb

        Agreed Char but I do not trust that the verbiage matches the actions with lyin ryan…He has shown no comprehension of the vulnerabilities of the the working poor, women, of middle class union workers—ever! What might be tempered verbal proposals would reveal themselves to be punery in execution!

        • charleo1

          Thanks! It’s very clear, a person with Ryan’s mindset should be kept as far away as possible from the programs, and initiatives, that serve the poor, and or, struggling Middle Class families. This Country needs a lot of work in the direction that helps strengthen workers wages, union memberships, are a shadow of their former self. And the average work-a-day American has not been further over the big employer’s barrel, in a hundred years. And, it’s sure not going to be the Paul Ryans of the World that’s going to change any of that for the better. The economy is nearly a mirror image of what Ryan’s bunch would like to create. Minus the SS, Medicare, and the rest of the other safety net programs, that limit the power of the monied class over the rest of us. If not for the sideboards, and brakes FDR put on the economy, we’d be neck deep in another Great Depression, right now. Truth be told, as long as their are politicians such as Ryan around, with the GOP controlling the House, or any part of the Gov. The next big scam that will tank the American economy, and bury the Middle Class for good, is just one or two bought, and paid for deregulations, and, “poverty experiments,” away.

    • Allan Richardson

      Isn’t that like asking the head of the NRA (or possibly Ted Nugent) to be in charge of the Sierra Club?

      • Dominick Vila

        I don’t trust Paul Ryan, but I believe that the fact a Republican leader put out a proposal that is not limited to the usual “tax breaks for the rich, the poor are bums” is a positive thing.
        The key, with developments like this is to consider them in a unbiased manner, and if we decide the proposal has merit, make sure it has sufficient oversight to make absolutely certain the Federal government funds are spent on what they were appropriate for rather than in the pursuit of partisan goals.

        • Independent1

          I’m sorry Dominick but irregardless of the source, doing anything to set up block grants for anything IS A BAD IDEA.

          I think this article from the Daily Kos says it well:

          Paul Ryan’s one crazy trick to hurt all the poor

          Here’s an excerpt, and in the article is a table that shows why block granting any program IS A BAD IDEA!! I DON’T CARE WHO PROPOSES IT!!!!!!!

          Rep. Paul Ryan’s so-called anti-poverty plan has been appropriately lambasted for the obvious things it would do, particularly stigmatizing poverty by essentially creating classes of poor—undeserving and deserving. But what the plan would really do is just hurt everyone and set the stage for the inevitable slashing of social insurance programs by combining them into block grants.

          Here’s the thing about block grants, as the folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities point out: “history shows that block grants that consolidate a number of programs or may be used for a wide array of purposes typically shrink—often very substantially—over time.”

          Here’s the link for those who don’t get Daily Kos distributions:

          • Dominick Vila

            The biggest danger about block grants is that they can be slashed without giving the impression that a political party or politician is carrying out an attack against a segment of our population. My point is that when a politician puts forth an idea, the opposition should debate that idea and should make a decision based on fact, rather than just say NO. Otherwise, we are no better than the party of NO.

  • Budjob

    I have serious reservations about states overseeing funds in order to combat poverty.The one big reason is,many of these states are controlled by Republican legislatures and administered by Republican Governors,many that have shown disdain,if not outward hostility towards the poverty stricken,the under employed or the unemployed.This control means that these politicians could systematically decide who survives and,who doesn’t!

    • U should – it doesn’t work – PERIOD! It’s a scam & Ryan knows it. The first hick-up in the economy, states begin belt-tightening & diverting these funds to MORE IMPORTANT priorities. Oh & by the way, when was the last time that the poor or distressed working class ever been a priority to Republicans? & while red state conservative voters don’t get it & would rather cut their own throats than accept safety net survival aid, we have to help save them from their own ignorance. This is why the push should be to rid Congress of Ryan & every other conservative this year, so that for 2 years, the American people can see how productive Congress really IS when administered by representatives who believe in the Constitution, Democracy & do it for the sake of the PUBLIC GOOD of ALL Americans – EQUALLY & w/out distinction or exception. Maybe after 2 more years, we can be out of debt. 2 more years, we can have single payer & an end to the use of coal & oil. AND publically funded elections. 2 years after that, peace across the Middle East & Solar Power established across the nation, the Mediterranian, the Middle East & Africa, to cut down on petroleum usage. 2 more years & we can come up w/creative new petroleum-based polymers to replace metals for our space fleets. 2 more years, Republicans come back to reality & help w/the project to get a manned mission to Mars… U get where I’m going w/this, but it has to start somewhere & there’s no better time than this election year. But listening to kooks like Ryan is going to get the entire human race & ALL LIFE on the planet ERASED from the same reality they don’t believe in anyway!!! Like a druggie or alcoholic, at some point, they have to be CUT OFF!!! Lets make the cut-off point THIS YEAR AMERICA…

  • Dump The GOP In 2014

    Paul Ryan is a republican first, anyone that thinks he will help the poor is a fool / GOP sheep. His goal is to fatten the pockets his corporate masters

  • charles king

    The people of this country better wake up because the counties of our States are in the hands of Commissioners, Who are thinking Plutocracy instead of our Democracy and Plutocracy is about some rich people of all shades Who? are trying to privatize the People’s assets. I think our Federal government is still involve with Democracy For, By and Of the people but the way MONIES has entered the picture, I cant hold that truth to be correct. Now is the time for American’s to do ome critical thinking about the policitical problem in our country and VOTE those people Who? are not doing their job. You, the People know Who? they are so VOTE their sorry A**** OUT OUT OUT. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love a All. Mr. C. E. KING

  • JDavidS

    Anything with “Lyin'” Ryans’ name attached to it is immediately suspect. He is now, and always has been, a flunky for the 1%. He will lie, steal and cheat to do their bidding. The devil is always in the details and I would bet that this particular devil will do nothing for the poor and conversely, nothing to hurt the rich. Read the fine print very carefully, people.

  • jmprint

    Really I think the real problem is that Paul Ryan even exists. For a person who is completely clueless of what make this a great nation, the diversity of cultures, and mind sets. He is all about following the mentality of the John Birch Society, where the only people that count are those that were more born with a silver spoon. Paul Ryan doesn’t really know hardships.

  • docb

    I am inclined to take David Stockman’s appraisal of ryan ..He is a compassion-less Fiscal Fake.

    • charleo1

      It’s due to the way they view public funds after winning an election. As so much plunder to be looted, and divided up among their various supporters, and ideological cronies. Invariably used to bring to fruition an a myriad of Right Wing aspirations, they always somehow never manage to mention on the campaign trail. Like funding private for profit religious charter schools, with tax dollars they rob from public school budgets. Cutting head start, and free lunch programs, and unemployment benefits, in the middle of jobs crisis! More cutting of corporate taxes, by half! While laying off thousands of public service workers, teachers. fire fighters, and police, and closing hundreds of neighborhood government offices. While doubling the fees on drivers licenses, business licenses, building permits, and road tolls. And as always taking back twice, or three times what they pay into the Federal system. While bashing the proliferate spending in Washington, as they break their little arms patting themselves on the back for their wonderful Conservatively balanced State budgets. And look upon the smoldering mess of their State’s economies, and with an absolutely straight face, stand, and declare it all magnificent!

      • Independent1

        Charle, some folks may read your post and think you went overboard foisting the blame on the Republicans – when you really didn’t go far enough.

        Those balanced budgets you mentioned that not only the GOP but the right-wing wackos who post on the NM sometimes like to point out, are only achieved because nitwit Republican legislators have set up programs to promote their millions of poor into applying for every federal program they’re eligible for so the state can cut millions from the programs for the poor that the state really should be running.

        And its not only the poor who suffer in red states, it’s also anyone who has the need of medical care. Those balanced budgets are an example of how red states have severely cut back any semblance of medical help for their residents living below the poverty level. And that’s not a small thing, because red states are notorious from creating dumbed down economies such that 20 of the 24 states that lead America for having the highest percentages of people living in poverty are red states; and that’s also a function of that balanced budget.

        So what these Republicans who pat themselves on the back over the great financial condition of their states forgets to tell everyone, is that that great financial condition was created by making a sizeable portion of the people living in their state suffer in more ways than any people should be required to suffer. While the heartless Republicans that are patting themselves on the back are out living high on hog!!!

        • charleo1

          I live in Florida. So I have a front row seat to all of it. The shell games, the multi-million dollar give-a ways to insider cronies, and some of the richest entities in the State. Florida Power & Light, (FPL) has their snoot in the public trough as deep as any one of them. We taxpayers are buying them a new power plant in Port St. Richie. Even as they are billing us in S. Florida for the new plant each month! Even as they are telling us, how lucky we are to have such a wonderful enterprise serving us! And the same crap as all the other States. Voter repression. Public school funds pilfered to build corporate for profit schools. While local boards lay off teachers, (close to 200,000,) and new schools, and sorely needed renovations are put on hold. As all public services go to hell. (Police/Fire) Restaurants don’t get inspections. Our Community hospital was a week from closing it’s doors. As Gov. Rick Scott, tried to auction it off to a corporate hospital chain. This, as he was withholding the Federal Medicaid monies! The head of our State EPA, is a junk yard mogul. In a State where our # 1 industry is tourism. In a County, (Miami-Dade,) with a near 50% uninsured rate. With a constant influx of, “migrant.” Americans. Fleeing the $500.00 per month heating bills back home. Rock bottom wages. Right to Work, don’t you know? You want to find a waiter, bar tender, room cleaner, lawn mowing person, life guard, valet, pizza delivery guy, Cuban National fresh off the boat? Any low wage position you can think of, we’ve got ’em by the hundreds of thousands. And not one insurance policy among the lot. Expand Medicaid? Not on you’re life! Our Gov is a Tea Bagger, former Medicare crook, graduated to the big time! He’s a Republican!

  • Daniel Jones

    If I thought Paul meant a single word, I’d applaud his work, flawed as it is.
    I don’t. So I won’t.

  • Mark Forsyth

    Curiously,I feel not one bit of gratitude for the fact that the goddamn sons of bitches who create and maintain so much misery are willing to talk about it.Burn their sorry asses!