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Why Conservatives Canít Fix Poverty: Gingrichís new idea offers a stark reminder (Barf Alert)
In These Times ^ | December 11, 2011 | James Thindwa

Posted on 12/14/2011 10:27:43 AM PST by 2ndDivisionVet

Newt Gingrich’s recent utterances about poor children–they “have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works”–reflect not only the inability of conservatives to talk seriously about poverty, but a mean-spiritedness that, unfortunately, largely eludes public scrutiny.

Apparently, Gingrich and the approving Iowa crowd have never heard of “the working poor”–folks stuck in low-wage jobs (often more than one), but still unable to escape poverty. Based on the crowd’s reaction, Gingrich’s November 28 speech achieved a key objective. Conservatives enjoy being told that poverty is caused by the bad behavior of its victims, a belief famously reaffirmed by Herman Cain (“If you’re poor, blame yourself!”). It is always easier to blame victims than to contemplate real solutions.

Gingrich’s views rest on the belief that single mothers in public housing are bad role models for hard work. But according to Andrea Levere, president of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit that helps poor families build wealth, most poor children are raised in families with a working adult. In an interview with NPR’s Pam Fessle, Levere observed, “many of these families work two jobs and three jobs.” And Fessler noted that in public housing, “about half of non-elderly, non-disabled households get most of their income from wages.”

Many poor people who cannot get public housing still try to get work. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that approximately 19 percent of homeless shelter residents have a job.

Gingrich’s false and primitive protestations about the poor were distinguished by what he left out. The GOP’s newest presidential frontrunner failed to mention the constellation of forces that conspire to marginalize and degrade poor communities–including policies he and his party have long championed.

For decades, urban communities have endured massive job flight and the advent of a low-wage business model enforced by aggressive anti-union strategies – both of which are abetted by conservative economic policy. But this history is too inconvenient, even for a self-promoting student of history such as Newt Gingrich.

Of course, no one expects Gingrich and the right-wing crowds to which he panders to engage in critical thinking about race and poverty. They are invested in avoiding systemic analysis that illuminates the influence of external factors on the human condition.

Thus, a hallmark of conservative success in recent decades is the tarnishing of inconvenient terminology in our public discourse – root causes, socioeconomic conditions, historical factors, even inequality and social justice!–that implicates systems and gives context to individual failings. The right has made such language taboo, and those who continue to invoke it risk being marginalized and derided as hopelessly liberal, criminal-coddling, and trafficking in “moral relativism.”

However, the “no-excuses” dogma is demonstrably hypocritical, for it applies only to poor people. Notice how Gingrich himself blamed work pressures for his serial infidelity; or how conservatives wave off corporate criminality as “just a few bad apples.” The deck is stacked against the poor, because economic hardship raises the risk of moral collapse. But what is Gingrich’s excuse?

Actually, there is a self-serving logic to the Right’s aversion to a systemic approach to poverty mitigation. Really serious anti-poverty strategies would require its corporate benefactors to raise wages, dispense with unionbusting, support minimum-wage hikes, embrace national healthcare, and stop discriminating on the basis of race, gender, age and disability. This burdensome outlook is what angers conservatives. The truth threatens their worldview.

Conservative attacks on the poor are not new. As Speaker of the House, Gingrich once proposed cutting off welfare benefits for children born to unwed mothers, then using the money to build orphanages for the children. Many others have built political careers on this theme, often invoking the right’s favored parlance of “personal responsibility.”

Indeed, almost singlehandedly, the mantra of “personal responsibility” drove the national welfare reform debate, culminating in passage of the cynically titled Work Opportunity and Personal Responsibility Reconciliation Act of 1996. It was a bipartisan project, to be sure, but welfare reform was deeply rooted in a conservative ideology that blames poor people for their plight.

Not surprisingly, then as now, conservative champions of welfare reform -even as they invoked the “dignity of work”–showed no interest in substantive strategies to help the poor transition from welfare. Instead of mandating higher wages for the new entrants into the workforce, congressional Republicans doubled-down and refused to raise the minimum wage. In fact, between 1997 and 2007 (for 10 years!), GOP ideologues ensured that the minimum wage remained at an unconscionable $5.15 per hour.

Gingrich’s distorted characterization of poor people–a crowd pleaser on the campaign trail–is a caricature deeply embedded in the conservative psyche. According to this narrative, an out-of-control black culture is implicated in the devaluing of the work ethic and loss of moral values. In this worldview, black moral decay – not disappearing work, low wages, or poorly funded schools–causes urban poverty, joblessness and “social pathology.”

For conservatives, the solution is not to demand good-paying jobs, but to offer moral tutelage to poor children by (Gingrich’s plan) getting rid of “truly stupid” child labor laws and unionized workers and hire children instead. But what would displaced parents do, especially if they have to feed, clothe and educate their scabbing children? Where is the jobs plan for parents?

It is truly the height of detachment for a politician to worry about children who do not work rather than working conditions for parents (wages, health and pension benefits). Ironically, it is the unions Gingrich detests who are best-positioned to improve those working conditions.

To Gingrich, the crimes and moral lapses of elites are not rooted in their culture; they are isolated and understandable occurrences. But this exculpatory narrative goes further, and posits that because they are “job creators” wealthy elites should be exempted from the normal rules of accountability. Conservative attacks against the Frank-Dodd law and its Consumer Financial Protection Bureau–set up to police the banking industry–exemplify the impulse to create impunity for elites.

The right’s intellectually and morally bankrupt worldview–underpinned by the customary bromides about tax cuts, deficit reduction and small government – is why there has been no serious proposal by the GOP to address poverty and revive the American middle class. Conservatives are prisoners to a set of ideas whose only purpose is to serve capital. Addressing poverty would require conservatives to break with those ideas.

Poverty has always been a difficult subject for conservatives. The only way they know how to talk about it is to scold, demonize and stereotype the poor–and their advocates (witness the savaging of ACORN). But the louder the calls for “personal responsibility” for the poor, the lesser the willingness to demand accountability from corporations; and the more bombastic the homilies about Christianity, the meaner the rhetoric against “the least of us.” With so much energy invested in demonizing, one wonders when these good Christians actually pray for the poor.

Oblivious to the paradox, conservatives want poor people to appreciate “the dignity of work” while demeaning work (and workers) by driving down wages. That is exactly what happens when unions are marginalized, the minimum wage is held down and corporations outsource jobs – often with the help of political enablers and industry groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a conservative business association, actually assists corporations seeking overseas locations.

It would be a remarkable irony–even a silver lining–if the buffoonery of Newt Gingrich, who built his political career on demonizing the poor, helped rescue low-income Americans from their invisibility. Occupy Wall Street has deservedly been credited with sparking a debate about rising inequality. But perhaps we are also indebted to Newt Gingrich for his small contribution, however disturbing, to this overdue conversation.

*******

James Thindwa is a member of In These Times' Board of Directors and a labor and community activist.


TOPICS: Georgia; Iowa; Campaign News; Issues
KEYWORDS: economy; gingrich; unions; welfare
The comments pound on him!
1 posted on 12/14/2011 10:27:47 AM PST by 2ndDivisionVet
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

Fifty years of the Great Society assures us that Liberals can’t fix poverty, either.


2 posted on 12/14/2011 10:31:19 AM PST by E. Pluribus Unum (FOREIGN AID: A transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries)
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To: E. Pluribus Unum

The Great Society also provided much more ‘mean spiritednsess’ in deed more than any words. Enslaved people all over and they don’t even see it this time.


3 posted on 12/14/2011 10:36:38 AM PST by Matt Hatter
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
James Thindwa is a Communist.

The latest episode of PBS' Bill Moyers Journal includes a 25-minute profile of Chicago community organizer James Thindwa, who works with the group Jobs with Justice. The report traverses many of the great organizing efforts that we've covered here at Progress Illinois over the past year: from the Republic Windows sit-in to the fight with Wal-Mart for a living wage to the mobilization behind the Employee Free Choice Act. Moyers' synopsis of the 2006 big box fight is particularly useful.

Something tells me he might be an Obummer sycophant.

4 posted on 12/14/2011 10:40:35 AM PST by Lazlo in PA (Now living in a newly minted Red State.)
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To: E. Pluribus Unum

I have come to the very Yoda-like belief that there is no “why”, only “how”. I don’t care why people are poor. I just know that whatever the left has done over the last 70+ years has just made the poor worse persons.

There’s nothing worse than having to stand in line at a check-out counter (as I did yesterday) behind a woman with a child and dog (yes dog) while she tried to figure out which part of her transaction should go on the cash part of her welfare card versus the food part of her welfare card or what was left to pay in cash.

She was perfectly oblivious to (or rather proud of) the fact that she was causing the taxpayers behind her (the ones who pay the money that magically appears on her card every month) to wait.

The utopians have long told us that if only humans could be free of the need for material pursuits and have free education to “elevate” their minds, they would all become Picassos or Einsteins. 70+ years and $trillions later they have reverted to animals instead.


5 posted on 12/14/2011 10:41:14 AM PST by PhilosopherStone1000
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

Why do liberals always seem to have the best pot?


6 posted on 12/14/2011 10:42:12 AM PST by Psycho_Bunny ("Fair share" are the last two words I hear before I stop taking someone seriously.)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

Be prepared to hear this day in and day out from the media.


7 posted on 12/14/2011 10:43:07 AM PST by truthkeeper (Vote Against Barack Obama in 2012! (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.))
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To: All

No one can fix poverty.
God gave us free will and decided to let us go it on our own.
If God saw fit to let us rise and fall by using the gifts He gave us, why do these godless, wannabe tyrants think THEY can “fix” something that was never meant to be fixed?


8 posted on 12/14/2011 10:48:33 AM PST by Maverick68
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

The only thing that fixes poverty is a job and a half a effort to get one and then to keep it.

Rant follows:
The main problem is g’mint has created, as usual, a bigger mess than if they would have not embraced and supported the unmotivated via OPM in the first place.
Somehow, it has almost become illmoral to “force” people to work for their keep...?
Until and unless we are ready to get real firm..not allow people to collect a check for doing nothing...then we are doomed.
I don’t care if someone is in a wheel chair they can be greeters or hand out flyers.
It seems to me most people would WANT to do SOMETHING???


9 posted on 12/14/2011 10:52:50 AM PST by Leep
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

And the liberals have done such a great job at it?


10 posted on 12/14/2011 11:07:11 AM PST by EBH (God Humbles Nations, Leaders, and Peoples before He uses them for His Purpose)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

” a mean-spiritedness that, unfortunately, largely eludes public scrutiny”

Yeah, no one has ever tried to publicly link Republicanism with meanness. That’s not a cliche or anything. When will the silence end?


11 posted on 12/14/2011 11:07:48 AM PST by Tublecane
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

“For decades, urban communities have endured massive job flight”

Could that have something to do with “urban communities” electing Democrats?


12 posted on 12/14/2011 11:09:50 AM PST by Tublecane
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

“Occupy Wall Street has deservedly been credited with sparking a debate about rising inequality”

Lord, if only inequality were rising. That’d mean we’re coming out of dark times. Nothing promotes equality like a depression.


13 posted on 12/14/2011 11:12:13 AM PST by Tublecane
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
And Fessler noted that in public housing, “about half of non-elderly, non-disabled households get most of their income from wages.”

Wow. That's really impressive about half get about half their income from work. Where does the rest come from?

14 posted on 12/14/2011 11:33:51 AM PST by Minn (Here is a realistic picture of the prophet: ----> ([: {()
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To: E. Pluribus Unum

Its almost comforting to know that the liberal talking points will never change.


15 posted on 12/14/2011 12:37:27 PM PST by Georgia Girl 2 (The only purpose of a pistol is to fight your way back to the rifle you should never have dropped.)
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To: PhilosopherStone1000

I FORMERLY had a VA Vet friend who had one of these “food stamp Debit cards”.

The monthly amount was MORE than sufficient for him, and the ‘remaining allowance’ would reset to the ‘monthly allowance’ on each first of the month, no matter how much of the monthly allowance he had actually used.

Therefore, he determined it did not matter if something was on sale or not, or what the price of something was to begin with - he could afford it because his ‘food stamp debit card was paying for it’. And he shopped at the most expensive super market in town. All because there was little chance he actually NEEDED to use the entire allowance any way. And whether he used a little of it or a lot of it, it would start each month with a ‘remaining balance’ equal to the ‘monthly allowance’; so he figured why not spend it all anyway.

If I were in his position (I am not) I would be shopping for food items each month with a priority on buying more of an often-used item than needed when it is on sale, stocking my freezer and pantry with the extras, and only paying ‘full retail’ as necessary - which is what I do now. Seldom do I “need” to go to a store for whatever I need to fix a meal. I have what I need, “in stock” and most of it was “stocked” on a sale price.

His careless (to me thoughtless) attitude about the ‘food stamp Debit card’ was one of the causes for why he became a former friend.


16 posted on 12/14/2011 12:47:50 PM PST by Wuli
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To: Tublecane
“For decades, urban communities have endured massive job flight”

Could that have something to do with “urban communities” electing Democrats?

It probably has something to do with unions driving the cost of labor so high that business becomes noncompetitive. Moving to a "right to work" state or off shore is the only answer to rapacious union demands.

It would be interesting to see what a union pay scale looks like for their own employees compared to private sector workers doing the same job (sauce for the goose...)

Regards,
GtG

17 posted on 12/14/2011 12:59:20 PM PST by Gandalf_The_Gray (I live in my own little world, I like it 'cuz they know me here.)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

Conservatives enjoy being told that poverty is caused by the bad behavior of its victims, a belief famously reaffirmed by Herman Cain (“If you’re poor, blame yourself!”). It is always easier to blame victims than to contemplate real solutions. ‘’’And that solution is?...to stop work, create more government and destroy families.


18 posted on 12/14/2011 1:16:03 PM PST by Safetgiver (I'd rather die under a free American sky than live under a Socialist regime.)
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To: Gandalf_The_Gray

“It probably has something to do with unions driving the cost of labor so high that business becomes noncompetitive”

The article’s author would think that’s a great thing, unions driving up labor cost. To the noncompetitive point they’d be deaf. But let’s play his game and pretend it is a good deal for union members. What about people who aren’t in the union? Aye, there’s the rub.

Only he never thinks about them. Probably if he ever did, he’d say they should go unionize something else. Hobo window washing, or something.


19 posted on 12/14/2011 1:50:52 PM PST by Tublecane
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To: Safetgiver

“And that solution is?”

Take money from rich people, duh!

Give a man fish, and he’ll vote to increase the power of the state. Teach a man to fish, and...hey, what the heck do you mean, teach? So he can be alone to fend for himself? Heartless monster! He has enough burdens, being poor. Why burden him more when you could dip into all the money lying around that no one’s using don’t really need?


20 posted on 12/14/2011 1:54:59 PM PST by Tublecane
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To: Maverick68
... why do these godless, wannabe tyrants think THEY can “fix” something that was never meant to be fixed?

They simply want the power to tell the rest of us what they think we should do, and then make us do it.

21 posted on 12/14/2011 6:24:18 PM PST by Mind-numbed Robot
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