What Mitt Romney Should’ve Said About the Very Poor

Yes, yes, I know — I’m backseat campaigning. But since the chances are pretty good that Mitt will be our nominee, it behooves us grassroots conservatives to give him some sound advice.

Bottom line? I think Mitt blundered in the following interview:

Mitt Romney: “They want someone who they have confidence in. I believe I will be able to instill that confidence in the American people. By the way, I’m in this race, because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor; we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling, and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.

Soledad O’Brien: “I know I said last question. You said I’m not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that?”

Mitt Romney: “Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have the safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. The challenge right now — we will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor. And there’s no question, it’s not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle income Americans. My campaign — you can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich, that’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor. That’s not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans, retirees living on Social Security, people who can’t find work, folks that have kids getting ready to go to college. These are the people who have been most badly hurt during the Obama years. We have a very ample safety net, and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.” (Emphasis added.)

I don’t think he blundered because I’m scared of what the left will do. Screw the left. No matter what our candidate does, Obama’s supporters – who’ve turned arguing in bad faith into a bloody art form – will find something to bludgeon us with. I also don’t think Mitt blundered because I support expanding the Johnsonian “War on Poverty.” Quite the opposite is the case, in fact. I believe Mitt blundered in the above exchange because he evinces a trust in state-based solutions that is simply not warranted and fails to defend the conservative approach to poverty.

We are Catholic (or we wish to be Catholic) here at Right Fans, and we take the Church’s teachings on “social justice” just as seriously as we take the Church’s teachings on, say, abortion and contraception. We believe, therefore, that society’s first duty is to protect the vulnerable and needy. But how do we discharge this task? What public policies should we adopt? These questions are open to prudential decision-making except on one crucial particular: The Church stresses the principle of subsidiarity – i.e., that any challenge should be tackled by the smallest entity that is competent to do so – and opposes collectivism and radical centralization. Therefore, we as Catholics have not fulfilled our religious duties to the poor if we remain content with funneling our tax dollars to federal “anti-poverty” bureaucracies.

The truth is this: Like everything else the federal government touches, our so-called “poverty programs” are rife with inefficiency and abuse. Federal money for “affordable housing,” for example, is being wasted — and as a consequence, such housing is not being built on many vacant lots that were set aside for that purpose. But even when the so-called “benefits” of these programs actually make it to the intended recipients, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are doing the best we can to help the poor. Yes — for the most part, we are still an economically mobile society; if you are currently in the bottom tax bracket, the probability remains extraordinarily high that you will not be there a few years from now. But there is such a thing as “inter-generational poverty” — and it is being fed by the government. Unfortunately for us, our “safety net” is morphing into a permanent way of life for many who are able-bodied and should be gainfully employed. Those housing vouchers Mitt mentions, for instance? Those should be temporary stopgaps for all but the elderly poor and the disabled, yet many healthy adults are depending on them over the long term.

Our ultimate goal should be to enable people to lift themselves out of poverty — not render them clients of the state in perpetuity. Yet the “safety net” in which Mitt apparently puts his faith is accomplishing the latter – not the former – because it has established a cloud-cuckoo-land of perverse incentives that discourage both marriage and work. Should we be satisfied with this? No — and Mitt shouldn’t be either. Instead, he should emphasize that pro-growth policies that reduce the tax and regulatory burden on employers – combined with a policy that champions genuine, comprehensive energy independence – will do more to help the poor than any government program Obama could devise because such policies will put people back to work. As the Catholic Church teaches, it is work – not dependency – that enhances our human dignity.

Gingrich Is Not a Racist, Nor Is He Using "Dog-Whistles"

Here is some information on the full history of the “food stamp president” saga, as reported by Politico (hardly a right-wing media organ):

A reporter on the trail notes that Gingrich frequently says in his stump speeches that he would urge people to demand paychecks instead of food stamps — a talking point that it is not usually met with great alarm by the media. He also frequently says that he would go to the NAACP convention if it invited him. On Thursday morning, the two points came together when he said he would go to the NAACP convention and explain “why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

Slate’s Dave Weigel tweeted a slightly altered version of Gingrich’s quote at 9:34 a.m., and Talking Points Memo put it up less than 20 minutes later with the headline, “Newt: African Americans Should Get Off Food Stamps; Demand Paychecks.” An hour after that, The Daily Beast ran its story with the headline, “Gingrich to African-Americans: Get Off of Food Stamps.” By the end of the day, the AP was comparing the quote to a remark made by Rick Santorum that the president of the National Urban League criticized as pandering to racist elements in the GOP. (Emphasis mine.)

And while we’re at it, here’s the full transcript of Gingrich’s statement:

The fact is if I become your nominee we will make the key test very simple — food stamps versus paychecks. Obama is the best food stamp president in American history. More people are on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history.

Now there’s no neighborhood I know of in America where if you went around and asked people, would you rather your children had food stamps or paychecks, you wouldn’t end up with a majority saying they’d rather have a paycheck.

And so I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. And I’ll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which would be particularly good for African-American males because they are the group that gets the smallest return on social security because they have the shortest life span. (Again, emphasis mine.)

So let’s summarize, shall we? Gingrich has been saying for ages that Obama is “the food stamp president” — a characterization that, for the most part, is factually true. The number of food stamp recipients and the average individual benefit have both increased markedly during Obama’s term in office. Yes, this is partially because of the recession that Obama “inherited,” but if Obama were actually a competent leader (instead of a cipher), our bounce back would not be so anemic. But anyway, to continue: Gingrich has been criticizing Obama’s food stamp record all along, and he’s done so without mentioning race. Mentioning race, after all, would be silly, as the majority of food stamp recipients are white, a fact of which I’m sure Gingrich is aware.

Gingrich has also repeatedly stated that he would speak to the NAACP if he were invited, which in my opinion shows a laudable willingness to reach out to voter blocks that the GOP has unfortunately written off as “beyond hope.” Gingrich, it appears, feels that the GOP platform is universal and should be preached to everyone. So what does he really mean when he says that he would tell the African-American community at the NAACP convention to demand paychecks instead of food stamps? What he’s saying, essentially, is this: “I believe that everyone should demand gainful employment instead of welfare — and yes, ‘everyone’ includes the African-American community. Why shouldn’t it? In my experience, every American, regardless of race, would prefer a paycheck to the dole.” He’s not saying that only African-Americans receive food stamps, or that African-Americans are disproportionally represented among food stamp recipients. He’s not saying that the African-American community should be singled out for special censure on this issue. He’s saying that African-Americans also stand to benefit from a Republican presidency and consequently need to hear his message.

So who really brought race into this discussion of our welfare system? Left-wing pundits, who evidently lack some very basic comprehension and internet research skills. In typical left-idiot fashion, they are reading penumbras and emanations into Gingrich’s remarks that simply do not exist.

Compassion Without Prudence Is Not Compassion

“Heartless? Yes, I am heartless when some urban punk with $10 grand of rims, amps and gadgets on his car pulls into a convenience store with a food stamp card, buys junk food, beer, lottery tickets and smokes. BECAUSE THAT DOES NOT LOOK LIKE POVERTY TO ME. And yes, I saw that daily, dozens of times, at the convenience store across the street from the house that got burgled.” – Michael Z. Williamson

Some years ago, Mom took a temporary job at the local housing office, and her experience of poverty in America is very similar to that described in the post linked above. She saw many people who genuinely needed public assistance. She also saw many mothers who had perfectly styled hair and elaborately painted nails — and children who were dressed in dirty, ragged t-shirts and jeans. As you might expect, Mom felt very little sympathy for the latter group. Instead of spending money on your perm and manicure, Mom often thought to herself, why not buy some decent clothes for your kids?

As far as most leftists are concerned, Mom is a cold, heartless, judgmental bitch for even daring to suggest that people with meager incomes should live frugally. This recent blog post, for example, illustrates that attitude very well. Because we conservatives believe that there are limits to what public assistance can realistically achieve, “profkeck” concludes that we are meanies who want rob her life of all fun. “They would think that I shouldn’t take pleasure in life by going to a theme park with my family or attending a rock concert in celebration of my wedding anniversary. Instead, I should use my monthly income to cover all my bills, purchase health insurance, buy gas and groceries, and if there’s anything left, I should save it,” she writes, as if it’s the general public’s responsibility to ensure that her life is pleasant and stress-free. Please, please give me a break, “profkeck”. It is not moral to legally compel perfect strangers to bankroll your family trip to the amusement park. If you want those things, you are going to have to save up the money in advance through couponing or other cost-cutting measures — or you’re going to have to ask your family, your friends, or a local charity (like a church) for assistance.

(Also, “profkeck” betrays a distinct lack of awareness as to the reasons for her troubles. Gee, I wonder why people are struggling to pay for healthy food. Could it be because the government has interfered with the free market by subsidizing some food industries at the expense of others? That, my fellow blogger, is a bipartisan sin that many up-and-coming “tea-bagger” conservatives wish to correct.)

And I’m not saying all of this from a position of privilege, by the way. (Though I’m immensely thankful for what I do have and do not consider myself poor in any absolute sense.) From month to month, I pretty much live on the hairy edge of financial disaster. My credit rating is only okay thanks to some youthful indiscretions, and I am thousands of dollars in debt thanks to my student loans. I have what essentially amounts to a part-time job with no benefits. I also have a chronic medical condition, which means I pay sky-high premiums for my very basic, high-deductible individual health plan. God forbid I should come down with a serious infection or get into an accident. If that happened, I would be scrambling to cover the aforementioned deductible. And if my car should break down? A few months ago, my Toyota’s engine light blinked on, and for the next few days, I lived with the dread that I would be handed a car repair bill I wouldn’t be able to pay.

On the other hand, I do have a computer with internet access, a couple of e-readers, a respectable collection of books and DVD’s, and the means to go to Dragon*Con and CPAC every year. How am I able to indulge in such pleasures? Through the generosity of my parents, grandparents, and friends, mostly. (My parents, especially, have been a big help. I can never thank them enough.) For Dragon*Con in particular, I work on the volunteer staff so I don’t have to pay for my badge, and a good friend gives me a place to crash so I don’t have to pay for a hotel room. The upshot? At no point have I ever asked Joe Taxpayer in Kansas to foot the bill for my happiness. I suppose it would be nice, from the standpoint of naked self-interest, if richer tax-paying Americans covered my health care and student loan expenses, but I believe in looking past the end of my own nose and considering the likely unintended consequences of an expansive welfare state.

I do believe the government has a responsibility to establish a basic social safety net. And what does basic mean? It means that our tax dollars should in part be used to ensure that our citizens are not naked, starving, or homeless. It doesn’t mean that our tax dollars should be used to ensure that all of our citizens be spared the “stress” of patronizing Goodwill, the laundromat, or the discount store. No, it isn’t “fair” that some people have to budget extremely carefully in order to make room for something fun while others can remain blissfully unaware of how much everything costs, but “it isn’t faaaaaaair!” is the cry of a six year old, not a mature adult. A welfare program which promised, say, brand new clothes for all (and this is not a strawman example given the left’s overweening indignation over Bruce Caswell’s suggestion that Michigan’s annual clothing voucher be restricted to use at second-hand stores) would ultimately collapse in on itself and end up being a help to no one. Compassion without prudence is not compassion.

I understand all too well that the “extras” are part of what makes life worth living. No conservative, in fact, truly believes that a poor man’s existence should be entirely consumed by drudgery and toil. Come Christmas, I always try to scrape together a little money to buy a gift for my parish’s Giving Tree to help someone whose financial situation is even crappier than mine. I also put a few packets of sugar cookie mix into the food donation box. But this brings me to my final point: The federal government cannot competently handle the task of delivering said extras, but local community groups can. In fact, they do it all the time. How many churches out there have programs in place to deliver Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas gifts to the working poor? I’m guessing just about all of them. Once again, we need to remember that our government is actually a four-layered entity. The poor would be better served if we applied the principle of subsidiarity to our public policy. At the very least, they wouldn’t be treated like cogs in a giant impersonal welfare machine.

Sign This Letter!

CASE’s Letter to the President:

Recently, in the midst of the debt-ceiling crisis, a group calling themselves the “Circle of Protection,” led by Jim Wallis of the activist group Sojourners, met with you and your staff to claim that biblical mandates preclude limits to federal programs for low-income people. The Circle includes representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals, Bread for the World, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Wallis and the “Circle of Protection” do not speak for all Christians. However laudable their intentions, the consequence of their action is to provide a religious imprimatur for big government and sanctify federal welfare programs that are often ineffective — even counterproductive. Contrary to their founding “Statement,” we do not need to “protect programs for the poor.” We need to protect the poor themselves. Indeed, sometimes we need to protect them from the very programs that ostensibly serve the poor, but actually demean the poor, undermine their family structures and trap them in poverty, dependency and despair for generations. Such programs are unwise, uncompassionate, and unjust.

Somebody from our local Catholic parish recently emailed me some “Circle of Protection” propaganda, so I practically bruised my fingers in my eagerness to affix my name to this document.

And by the way, “CASE” stands for “Christians for a Sustainable Economy.” Darn straight!

More from Fr. Sirico

“The Circle of Protection, led by Jim Wallis and his George Soros-funded Sojourners group, is advancing a false narrative based on vague threats to the “most vulnerable” if we finally take the first tentative steps to fix our grave budget and debt problems. For example, Wallis frequently cites cuts to federal food programs as portending dire consequences to ‘hungry and poor people.’

Which programs? He must have missed the General Accountability Office study on government waste released this spring, which looked at, among others, 18 federal food programs. These programs accounted for $62.5 billion in spending in 2008 for food and nutrition assistance. But only seven of the programs have actually been evaluated for effectiveness. Apparently it is enough to simply launch a government program, and the bureaucracy to sustain it, to get the Circle of Protection activists to sanctify it without end. Never mind that it might not be a good use of taxpayer dollars.” — Fr. Sirico, The Church as the Bride of Caesar

It’s the Orphans, Puppies, and Kittens Effect rearing its ugly head again — and it’s completely ridiculous. Not only does it make good financial sense to “watch where the money goes,” but it makes moral sense as well. Christ will certainly not be impressed if all we do to fulfill our obligation to help the poor is throw billions in tax dollars at government programs that “sound good” — especially if those programs are ineffective.

More Notable Quotables

I have two fun quotes to share today! First:

“I’m not addicted to oil. I’m addicted to being able to drive into town on my own schedule. I’m addicted to being able to haul home a week’s worth of groceries with two little kids in tow without having to wait for the f***ing bus with eighty pounds of filled plastic bags in my hands. (That’s disregarding the fact that I live out in the sticks, and the nearest bus stop is four miles away, which is one hell of a hike with the aforementioned two little kids and week’s worth of groceries.)

I don’t give a s*** what kind of substance I have to put in the tank of the minivan to feed that particular addiction. I don’t care about oil. If my minivan ran on distilled cow piss, I’d fill up with distilled cow piss. If they ever come up with an electric minivan that goes the speed limit on the Interstate, accelerates to highway speeds in less time than a geologic epoch, and doesn’t need to be recharged every fifty miles with electricity that comes from a coal-powered plant anyway, I’ll gladly buy one of those and deep-six the old combustion engine.

Until then, shut the f*** up about my addiction to oil.” – the munchkin wrangler

Exactly. Gasoline-free cars are simply not economically viable right now, so please, please get over yourselves, environmentalists.

*****

Second, here’s a choice bit of commentary from across the pond:

Why is it so bad to draw a line between the deserving and the undeserving poor? I have searched the Sermon on the Mount for the words ‘Blessed are the Spongers’ and I cannot find them – or anything remotely like them.
So why does the Archbishop of Canterbury speak as if it was obvious that we should treat people who can work, but won’t, in the same way as we treat those who are truly in need?

As Dr Williams has decided to take up political commentating, I think I shall do a little bit of Archbishoping. Here beginneth the first lesson: In St Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, Chapter 5, we read: ‘If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’

And in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, St Paul rubs it in, in that way he has: ‘This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.’ This seems pretty clear to me, and a dozen generations before my own knew these words by heart and lived according to them. They gave to charity and supported the helpless and needy with all their might.

But they scorned those who sought to live off others when they had no need to.” – Peter Hitchens

For some reason, every conservative Brit I’ve ever read has always had this delightfully tart way of putting things. Of course, Hitchens is absolutely right. We are not morally obligated to hand perfectly able-bodied individuals a check for sitting on their cans watching television. And by the way, as an individual with severe rheumatoid arthritis who is in fact working on a part-time basis, I feel our government’s definition of “able-bodied” should be significantly broadened. If you can sit at a desk for a few hours a day pushing paper or answering phones, then you should be working. That’s all there is to it. We no longer live in a time in which every job involves heavy physical labor.

Adult Baby Syndrome

Adult Baby Syndrome
by Michelle Malkin

The nappies may be extreme, but let’s face it: Thornton Jr. — let’s just call him Junior — is a symptom of our Nanny State run amok, not an anomaly.

Junior came to Washington’s attention this week when Oklahoma GOP Sen. Tom Coburn challenged the Social Security Administration to probe into how the baby bottle-guzzling 350-pound man qualified for federal disability benefits. A former security guard, Junior is handy enough to have crafted his own wooden high chair and playpen.

Junior can drive a car and has sense enough not to go out in public in his XXL footie pajamas. Yet, welfare administrators treat him as an incurable dependent. Also collecting taxpayer-subsidized paychecks: Thornton’s adult roommate, a former nurse, who has indulged Thornton’s baby role-playing for the past decade.

Junior, naturally, threw a tantrum when his government teat-sucking was called into question. He wiped his nose and un-balled his fists long enough to type out an e-mail to The Washington Times: “You wanna test how damn serious I am about leaving this world, screw with my check that pays for this apartment and food. Try it. See how serious I am. I don’t care,” Junior threatened. “I have no problem killing myself. Take away the last thing keeping me here, and see what happens. Next time you see me on the news, it will be me in a body bag.”

I’m sorry — if this individual is getting SSDI, then our standards are way too lax.

Say It Ain’t So!

This is exactly why I demanded universal accountability in my series on the budget:

Million-Dollar Wasteland: A Washington Post Investigation
A trail of stalled or abandoned HUD projects

The federal government’s largest housing construction program for the poor has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on stalled or abandoned projects and routinely failed to crack down on derelict developers or the local housing agencies that funded them.

Nationwide, nearly 700 projects awarded $400 million have been idling for years, a Washington Post investigation found. Some have languished for a decade or longer even as much of the country struggles with record-high foreclosures and a dramatic loss of affordable housing.

Why is HUD legally unable to demand repayment when a development plan falls through? That just makes no sense to me at all.

Boehner’s Catholic Critics Rush to Protect Welfare State

Boehner’s Catholic Critics Rush to Protect Welfare State
by Fr. Robert A. Sirico @ NRO

To jump so seamlessly from the Magisterium’s insistence on the fundamental and non-negotiable moral obligation to the poor to the specifics of contingent, prudential, and political legislation is wholly unjustified in Catholic social teaching.

But Fr. Sirico, there are so many advantages to maintaining a large welfare state. For one thing, we can be “compassionate” and “Christian” without even lifting a finger!

Whence Comes Dignity?

The shallow thinking that dominates the left’s political discourse never ceases to annoy me.

When Michigan state senator Bruce Caswell proposed recently that the use of an annual $80 state clothing voucher be restricted to purchasing clothing in second-hand shops (a proposal he has since significantly amended), leftists on my friends list and elsewhere went absolutely ballistic. “Caswell is a Rethuglican asswipe who hates poor kids!” howled the typical response.

Perhaps. Or perhaps Caswell simply wanted to ensure that poor children in Michigan actually get the clothing they need. At the moment, the aforementioned voucher is given directly to the parents (or foster parents) in the form of cash. That means the Michigan government cannot at this time guarantee that the $80 vouchers they dispense will really be used to buy clothing. For all we know, some parents may be using the little extra money to see to their own desires.

Moreover, $80 is not a lot if you’re buying new. Even if you shop at Wal-Mart, $80 will net you roughly five pairs of pants and five tops. Forget about underwear. Forget about socks and shoes. Forget about a coat, which every child needs if he or she is going to survive the Michigan winter. If you shop second-hand, however, you’re likely to get at least a little more bang for your state-provided buck. Granted, no matter where you go, $80 is not enough to buy clothes for a whole year (fortunately, these parents get additional cash support elsewhere), but if there’s a way that this voucher can be stretched to its absolute limit, shouldn’t we encourage such stretching? Isn’t it better to provide poor kids with more clothing?

If you answered yes to both of those questions, then you have a proper understanding of government’s responsibilities in re: the disadvantaged. Most people – including most conservatives – don’t object to the idea of a basic social safety net. But BASIC is the key word. Government should ensure that poor individuals get adequate preventative health care, nutrition, shelter, and clothing — the fundamental necessities of life. It is not the business of government to see to people’s wants. It sure would be nice if every little Johnny could get a pair of cool Nike sneakers or a whole new wardrobe every year, but neither of those things qualifies as a basic need.

Has that stopped leftists from declaring that any insistence upon frugality is an attack on the dignity of the poor? No. Apparently, these lefties still live by the middle school code. Do they realize how ridiculous they sound? Dignity does not come from the clothes you wear or the things you own. It’s a spiritual quality, and as such, it is not something that can be granted by any governmental body.