Conservatives lost the “cares about people like me” vote in the last election, but they can take it back. How? By taking up the cause of poor Americans through new welfare reform – especially if conservatives engage the nation in a debate on the right terms.
Millenials perceive the left as caring about the poor but the right as only concerned about the wealthy. Conservatives need to combat this image by arguing three points from the heart again and again.
First, the status quo is the result of the left’s policies, which have failed the downtrodden. Badly. The left initiated a war on poverty in the 1960′s and spent more money on this metaphorical war than every actual war in American history, from the Revolution to Afghanistan. They redistributed close to $20 trillion since the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, but the poverty rate actually increased from 14.7 percent then, to over 15 percent today.
Despite spending nearly a trillion per year on fighting poverty, one out of seven Americans live in poverty and nearly 50 million Americans depend on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. While this poverty is not as pronounced as it once was years ago – 99 percent of households in poverty in the U.S. have a refrigerator and 79 percent have a DVD player – it still represents the colossal failure of the left’s 80 means-tested welfare programs.
Millions on these programs languish in a deeper kind of poverty, the spiritual poverty of an inability to provide for oneself. These programs don’t expect much from recipients. They often constitute the sterile, faceless distribution of money others’ earned month after month, year after year, until many become comfortable relying on the work of others instead of their own work. It changes their character, and the character of the nation. Americans want to give everyone a helping hand, but hand-holding year after year, generation after generation, patronizes and entraps.
Is it compassionate to give single parents food stamp cards that, until recently, could be used in strip clubs? Is it noble to allow drug users with young children to come in and out of the welfare office without confronting them about their deep need to change their destructive lifestyle? The welfare state is consuming both our nation’s budget and our nation’s poor, and the left isn’t helping.
Second, conservatives need recall to national consciousness that conservatives implemented the most successful anti-poverty program in recent history: the 1996 welfare reform. Less than five years after the Republican-controlled congress passed “workfare,” caseloads dropped by more than half. Poverty among all single mothers fell 30 percent. Approximately 3 million fewer children lived in poverty in 2003 than in 1995.
Conservatives need to emphasize that these statistics represent real people with lives changed for the better. “I believe that welfare reform has been successful thus far,” testified Darnell Carter before the House Committee on Ways and Means in 2002. “As a single parent with sole custody of two children, my 12-year-old daughter Egypt and 8-year-old daughter Christian, working is a winner hands down.”
Why did reform succeed? Primarily because of one policy: 30 to 40 percent of those receiving welfare benefits in each state must engage in 20 to 30 hours of “work activities” per week. This policy was founded on a sound understanding of human nature — that work builds character and character drives success. By engaging impoverished Americans in work, it gave millions the experience, skill, and character to rise to individual responsibility and out of poverty.
And here conservatives have their third point: it’s time to take up the cause of the poor again with the 1996 reform as a guiding beacon. Rasmussen Reports, which conducted the most recent poll on the subject, found 83% of American adults favor a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare aid. In such a divided political environment, political leaders would be hard pressed to find another policy which secures such broad consensus.
Conservatives need to do better proving that they care, but they do have one important advantage: a political disposition congruent with both human nature and the principles of the American founding. Applying those principles to help the poor can illustrate that true compassion works to make lives better. Our current policies aren’t helping, but conservatives can convince the American people that they can change that.
Elliot Gaiser is a writer based in Washington D.C. Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire