Felicia Muftic: Politics goes back to the future
June 12, 2012
I have heard arguments this campaign season that I have not heard since the 1960 debates over President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
One repeated often by conservatives is “it is immoral for government to help the poor because we are making them dependent.” That is a fools gold kind of morality, lots of glittering rationale for those who care about the poor but still want to feel good about themselves while they support policies that hurt them.
Mitt Romney expresses concern for the poor from one side of his mouth: “I am not worried about the poor because they have a safety net” and “I have an absolute moral commitment to help every American help themselves”( by providing them jobs). Out of the other side of his mouth he proposes to poke holes in the safety net and make cuts in other programs that make it much more difficult for the poor to help themselves.
These comments appear to be Romney’s response to the Catholic bishops calling it immoral to cut the social safety net in order to pay for the tax benefits to the rich and higher defense spending as the Ryan/House GOP budget proposes, and Romney called “marvelous.” Romney’s own particular spin is it is more moral to provide jobs so the poor can “help themselves” than to make them dependent on government assistance.
No one can argue that work is better than welfare for those who are able to work and have the qualifying skills. Clinton-era welfare reforms did much to address this. However, the fix that Romney proposes is a flub. He bases his case on economic theories that have never worked well to create jobs in an economy recovering from a recession, he failed to apply his self-extolled job creating expertise to public policy, and he has a disconnect from realities of the poor’s ability to find work.
Romney supports economic theories of trickle down and European-like austerity that have failed to create jobs in the past. Gov. Romney had a dismal job creation record in Massachusetts and when he left office, unemployment was still higher than the national average. Pumping up “job creators” with deregulation and low taxes does not necessarily spring loose investment in manufacturing capacity unless business anticipates more demand.
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But Romney’s plans are demand killers. Fighting Obama’s jobs bill and/or any aid to rehire state and federal employees, such as teachers, firefighters and police, the core of GOP austerity plans, leaves less money in consumer pockets to buy products and services.
When Europe undertook austerity cold turkey, demand dropped and unemployment soared, a pertinent example. The conservative line on the “dependence” issue is, “If we reduce their safety net, more poor will go to work.” Even if jobs are created, will the poor benefit? Reducing access to a good education (Per Romney: “we do not need more (teachers)” and good nutritional brain food needed to learn, we are guaranteed pools of manual laborers who do not have the skills to be hired in today’s or tomorrow’s tech economy.
The GOP disconnect: Most of these safety net programs are for children that give them tools to escape dependence. Three-quarters of food stamp recipients are families with children. Of the nutrition programs for the poor (8.7 million recipients), 4.3 million are women with children, 2.2 million with infants. National school lunch programs: 30.5 million kids benefit. Children’s health programs (CHIP) keep them healthy enough to go to school and Head Start gets them ready to enter first grade. By reducing money to these programs, we guarantee more poor do not have good nutrition needed to learn, or to gain the ability to qualify for jobs Republicans hope to create.
Romney and the GOP are trying to fool well meaning conservatives, but presenting their plans for the poor as a jobs program or a moral plus is a shameful deception.