May 14, 2014

When you're a Republican and you need some cover for the fact that your policies have caused endless people to suffer, what do you do? You pretend you give a damn about poverty and policies that will fight poverty.

In one segment, Senator Rob Portman managed to invoke Saint Ronnie, diss LBJ and hijack JFK in order to appear like he cares about people living in poverty while failing to acknowledge the policy decisions that put people there. And of course, Joe Scarborough did nothing to fight back.


The latest entrant to the Republican anti-poverty crusade is Sen. Rob Portman, who spoke at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday and laid out his “constructive conservatism” approach to combating poverty, focusing mainly on prison reform and rethinking the war on drugs.

And indeed, that is exactly what Portman prescribes in this segment, with most of his focus on drug rehabilitation with just a small bit on prison reform.

Portman's lame attempt to paint Democrats with the blame for rising poverty numbers is where it all falls apart. Republican austerity measures have put the deepest cuts on anti-poverty programs while holding up the defense industry and of course, the billionaires. Those same billionaires are beginning to understand that they can't win without addressing poverty, so they're painting some lipstick on the Ronald Reagan pig and repackaging it for the 21st century.

This conservative focus on poverty is partly opportunistic. This is the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and what better way to rail against the evils of big government than to call a half-century of federal aid to the poor a failure? For all their talk of how the “War on Poverty” was a bust, the truth of the matter is that poverty has dropped dramatically since 1967, when you factor in non-cash and tax-based benefits. Federal anti-poverty programs have also been crucial in keeping children and seniors out of poverty.

But the Republican focus on poverty is also born of political necessity. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost among voters making less than $50,000 a year by 22 points. The Republicans know they have an image problem, and this push to alleviate poverty is an implicit acknowledgement that they recognize the danger in being the party associated with widening income inequality.

Unfortunately, it is the Reagan policies that slowed the growth of the middle class, spawned today's billionaires, and contribute on a daily basis to income inequality. For all of the talk about drug rehabilitation, for example, can we forget that Reagan closed all of the public facilities to help addicts and the mentally ill, who are those most often found "between the cracks" during the "rising tide?"

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