At this point, I think it’s fair to say that Jeb Bush is the most moderate Republican that we’re certain is going to run for president in 2016. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to examine his position on what to do about our urban areas like Baltimore and his ideas about fighting poverty. Given that the rest of the field is likely to be to the right of him, this is the best we’re going to get from a Republican candidate.
Yesterday Bush published an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune on just that topic. The opening is beautifully and empathically written. But then he joins the conservative bandwagon in blaming liberal policies for the problems.
Trouble is, from the War on Poverty to the persistence of liberal big city mayors, the same government programs have been in place for over a half-century — and they have failed. We have spent trillions of dollars in the War on Poverty, and poverty not only persists, it is as intractable as ever. This represents a broken promise. And it feeds the anger of Baltimore.
What is unfortunate for the Republicans touting this line is that their argument comes just as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities published a new study showing that in 2012 (the last year for which data is available), federal government programs reduced the poverty rate from 29.1% to 13.8% and lifted 48 million people out of poverty (including 12 million children). What this demonstrates is that, even as bad as things currently are, they could get much worse if Republicans have their way.
Bush goes on to present three of his ideas about how to tackle the problem of poverty. Here’s the first one.
If our government leaders want to attack poverty, they should first acknowledge that an effective anti-poverty program is a strong family, led by two parents. The evidence on this is incontrovertible. And conservatives should not be afraid to say that as the family breaks down, so does opportunity. Our goal should be to build up families.
This one gets bogged down when it comes to the question of what the government should do about it. A statement like, “Our goal should be to build up families” will get no argument from anyone – no matter what their political leanings might be. Policies like requiring employers to pay a minimum wage, paid sick leave, universal pre-K and affordable healthcare are all aimed at building up families. Providing access to comprehensive sex education, birth control and legal abortions have all been proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies and ensure that children are raised in supportive families. But I don’t think Bush supports any of those things.
This is merely rhetoric aimed at those who think that single parents and the divorce rate are to blame for all of our country’s ills, but don’t have a clue about anything government can do about it.
Bush’s second proposal focuses an issue he talks about a lot: education.
If we raise standards, demand accountability, reward great teachers and provide meaningful choices, we can create the tools that parents and kids need to rise up from poverty.
Once again, regardless of party, most everyone agrees that a quality education is key to ending poverty. But here’s the deal with education: this country has always done a pretty good job of educating upper income white kids. We would get a lot further in finding solutions if we simply named the challenge correctly: we’ve never done a good job of educating poor kids of color.
Bush likes to tout his success on education as Governor of Florida. But if you use my metric on that, the record doesn’t look so good. For example, 67% of low income students graduate on time in Florida. That’s significantly below the national average of 73.3%. Given that it disproportionately affects students of color, it’s also important to note that Florida has consistently led the nation in having the largest school-to-prison pipeline. And when students get in trouble with the law in Florida, they come in contact with a juvenile justice system that has one of the worst records in the country. Finally, the Miami Herald did a whole series last year about the failures in Florida’s child protection system. The tag line for the series says it all, “After Florida cut down on protections for children in troubled homes, deaths soared. The children died in ways cruel, outlandish, predictable and preventable.”
Overall, I’d say that if you are a poor child of color, Florida would not be a good place to grow up. Getting a good education there would be fraught with problems much deeper than standards, accountability, teacher pay and/or choices. But where the state of Florida fails its poor children of color is the same place that most urban areas fail them. Actual solutions would have to involve all of the systems described above.
Here’s Bush’s third proposal:
To do so requires policies that encourage people in the toughest neighborhoods to start up businesses. Reducing regulations, removing expensive licensing requirements for startups and cutting occupational fees would make a substantial difference and give self-starters a chance to create high-paying jobs and hope where they live.
Oh yes, Jeb. The only thing those “self-starters” have been waiting for to start their own businesses is a reduction in regulations, licensing requirements and occupational fees. Because those folks in the “toughest neighborhoods” know absolutely nothing about how to maneuver in underground markets. I’m just sure that their biggest roadblock has nothing to do with their lack of access to capital.
You see, I went and got all snarky on that one because it is so ridiculous on it’s face. That is the kind of solution that could only come from a rich white guy who knows absolutely nothing about life in urban America.
So there you have it folks: candidate-to-be Jeb Bush’s “urban agenda.” The one thing that binds all three proposals together is what usually happens when people try to suggest solutions to problems they’ve never experienced…they tend to rely on answers that have worked in their own lives rather than those that might help the people they’re targeting. A little more listening and empathy would go a long way.