The only thing more disturbing about hearing Jeb Bush say that George W. Bush is his closest foreign policy advisor is having to endure Paul Ryan pretending to care about about alleviating poverty.
Paul Ryan doesn’t just get the facts about poverty wrong — “Mr. Ryan’s poverty report, like his famous budget plan, is a con job,” The New York Times‘ Paul Krugman wrote — he creates a narrative that purposely stigmatizes the poor.
When he released his first budget plan that would send millions below the poverty line, he often referred to the safety net as a “hammock,” as if poor Americans were lounging around waiting to live off the supple fat of $4 a day in food stamps. Casting doubt on the poor’s willingness to work is a core principle of “dogwhistle” politics meant to divide the deserving poor from the rest of us who benefit just as much from government help, but in ways that are far less obvious. As many have noted, some white folks have been calling black people lazy ever since black people stopped working for free.
Ryan has revised his rhetoric a bit and wisely opened up his thinking to consider some criminal justice reform, as long as it doesn’t touch on the root of the “New Jim Crow” — The Drug War. But his argument is basically the same: Poor people choose to be poor because they don’t know better. Cut their government support and give them life coaches so we can afford huge new tax breaks for the rich, who have never been richer.
The prophet George Carlin said, “Conservatives say if you don’t give the rich more money, they will lose their incentive to invest. As for the poor, they tell us they’ve lost all incentive because we’ve given them too much money.”
We’re crawling out of almost 40 years of that “logic.” After massive tax cuts for the rich, we created about 20,000 jobs a month under George W. Bush, about 65,000 a month if you don’t count his disastrous last year. Under Barack Obama we’ve raised taxes on the rich and passed Obamacare, the biggest and most effective attempt to reduce inequality in at least a generation. And we’ve seen 98,000 new jobs a month… 182,000 if you don’t count his disastrous first year, which was severely hampered by the mess Bush’s disastrous last year left behind.
But facts only get in the way when your agenda is to undo progress. Republicans have to say the policies they oppose have failed because it’s the only way to argue against undeniable conservative failures. Here are five lies that conservatives insist on you accepting so we can redouble our efforts the help the people who truly need our help — the rich.
1. The “War on Poverty” didn’t work.
This lie is so invidious even some conservative writers have started pushing back against the idea that government spending hasn’t made a dent in poverty. But it’s the basic premise of Ryan’s attack on our safety net and it’s been repeated recently by GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee.
Conservatives compulsively ignore that many measures of poverty are taken before adding government aid into the equation. A new study shows that government programs are even more effective than previously thought at keeping Americans out of poverty. In 2012 alone, we lifted 48 million of our neighbors out of extreme need with the safety net.
The idea that the War on Poverty doesn’t work should be most offensive to seniors.
By any measure, we’ve cut the percentage of elderly Americans living in poverty by more than half since Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty some 50 years ago. And they are the only group that didn’t see a spike into poverty due to the Great Recession.
Ironically, seniors are now the core of the GOP’s political power in America, and the only reason Republicans are able to pursue savage cuts to the stability we’ve created for our grandmothers and grandfathers.
2. The poor are lazy.
This is the true gospel of the right. It’s how they justify opposing every government program including Medicaid expansion, which only helps Americans who earn too much to qualify for regular Medicaid. And it’s built entirely on a misunderstanding of who the poor are.
Demos’ Matt Bruenig looked at census data and found that the vast majority of the poor in America are children, the elderly, the disabled, and students.
Sadly, 20 percent or so are working poor who would likely be pushed out of poverty if the minimum wage were raised.
Ah, what about the “Rest”? They sound lazy! They must be the shiftless hammock dwellers whose main goal in life is to suckle at the taxpayer teat. Yeah. Notsomuch.
Bruenig found that the vast majority of them are occupied with “Caring” for children or another loved one. That leaves fewer than 1 out of 10 poor Americans as the sort of jobless moochers conservatives would like you to believe all poor Americans long to be.
3. Government help creates dependency.
Who ends up on welfare in America? About half of us. And of the 1 out of 2 Americans who gets government help, only 5 percent end up taking that help for 10 straight years.
“The idea of welfare dependence is an utter fabrication invented by rich Republicans to gut the social safety net,” Demos’ Sean McElwee wrote. “But this safety net has actually been incredibly effective. Which is why these rich Republicans want to get rid of it.”
Otherwise, we many not be able to afford the help we give to people who don’t need it so badly — like tax breaks for vacation homes, gluttonous business lunches, and private jets. Too bad the poor don’t enjoy such luxuries, or those too might become “hammocks.”
4. A lack of morals is the problem, not a lack of cash.
It’s always a little freaky when conservatives who don’t believe government can fix roads think it can fix “culture.” But this is the exact argument of the right whenever there’s an event like the riots in Baltimore that unearth the horrors of what it’s truly like to be poor in this country.
Crime is way down in America, as is teenage pregnancy and most other “immoral” behaviors that we measure, which makes you think the “morality” the right wants to see is a more theocratic and controlling government with more say in what women do with their bodies, and less of that “helping the poor” crap.
Bruenig points out that America has some of the worst poverty in the industrialized world for one simple reason: We spend less than the countries — like the Nordics — that have nearly eliminated poverty. “If you want serious anti-poverty policy that targets actual poverty,” he wrote, “and not stereotypes of it, then what you want is welfare-state expansions targeted at vulnerable populations.”
5. Cutting help to the poor will help the economy.
It hurts everyone when the poor don’t have the basic essentials to live.
“The societal cost of hunger, for example, is $167.5 billion per year as a result of factors such as lost economic productivity, the increased costs of poor educational outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the increased costs of charitable assistance,” The Center for American Progress’ Joey Moes wrote in an analysis of Ryan’s 2012 budget.
Republican policies are especially bad for the poor. But they’re also bad for everyone else, except the very, very rich.
Still, Paul Ryan has done a lot to help poor people. For instance, he helped Mitt Romney lose.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr