The Real GOP Anti-Poverty Agenda

Greg Sargent sums up the absurdity of the GOP claim to be interested in a new anti-poverty push in one stunning sentence:

The GOP poverty agenda right now includes opposing expanding Medicaid to millions of people; advocating for $40 billion in cuts to food stamps; and near-party-wide opposition to extending unemployment benefits.

Yes, there are in theory “conservative alternatives” to existing policies benefiting the poor, whether they’re from the Wayback Machine of Jack Kemp urban policy experiments, or something a bit more current. But they never seem quite ready for prime time other than as speech fodder. In the meantime, as Jonathan Chait points out, the default position is to deny the poor cash and food and housing and medical assistance:

The main unanswered question for the Republicans professing deep concern for the poor is, why wait? Two possible answers spring to mind. The first is that the new Republican vision is perfectly compatible with the old Republican vision: The poor and unemployed mainly need a good kick in the ass. Today’s Republican poverty agenda is therefore a nice down payment on tomorrow’s.

The second possibility is that Republicans really do have a different, less punitive vision in mind for their treatment of the poor. But if that is the case, it is hard to explain why they are fighting for a blunt policy of cutting right now. If Republicans care so much about the poor and unemployed, why inflict further misery on them right now while the party leisurely draws up a grand new vision for the welfare state? If Republicans only care about poverty policy insofar as they can use it to rebrand their party for 2016, it seems fair to conclude that they don’t actually care about it at all.

By “use it to rebrand their party for 2016,” Chait alludes to the strong likelihood that all this concern for the poor is aimed a different target. That would be the bleeding hearts of middle- and upper-income folk who have ingested altruistic propaganda–you know, like that of the do-gooder Jesus Christ–over the years and want to know that Republicans have a plan for dealing with all the feeding of sheep and clothing and housing of the “least of these,” but aren’t inclined to look too closely at the details. If that’s the low threshold GOP poverty-fighters think they need to meet, no wonder they’re taking their time.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.