Republicans and the Poor – A Conservative’s Perspective

Matt said recently, “Republicans don’t like poor people.” As a counterpoint to that broad statement, I asked Casey to share her thoughts on how Republicans interact with the problem of economic disparity in America. We’ve asked her to pipe up whenever she’s got something on her heart. Hopefully she’ll find time in her busy schedule to share with us often. — Brian

Hi Interstate Q readers – I’m Casey Pick, proud Log Cabin Republican and sometimes Soulforce Q activist. Clearly, by definition I enjoy a good debate, so I’d like to thank my friends Brian and Matt for inviting me to play in their sandbox for awhile. Let’s share some ideas, and have some fun with this. In the end, we have more in common than what divides us, and we’ve always got something to learn from each other.

So, why don’t conservatives just admit we hate poor people? Very simply, because most of us, like most liberals, don’t. We care deeply about the poor – some of us, myself included, have even lived below the poverty line for much of our lives – and generally we view ourselves as compassionate, reasonable human beings. We just have different beliefs about what will best serve the least among us. So in the interest of combating the notion that conservative policies are based on “stupidity and arrogance” any more than liberal policies, I’d like to offer some examples of why many people believe conservative ideas and policies are better for America as a whole, and poorer Americans in particular

But first, allow me to address that whole “conservatives don’t like poor people” idea directly. Exhibit A: Charitable giving. I love my liberal friends, and know many who are generous with their money and time – but as Reagan said, facts are stubborn things, and the numbers don’t lie. Conservatives give substantially more to charity than liberals every year. Republicans are often attacked as not being compassionate for opposing government welfare programs, but that is a function of our belief in the proper role of government, not hostility to people in lower income brackets. More than that, a quick look at income levels throughout the US shows that the twenty or so lowest income states are red states, while most of the states above the median income level are reliably blue. Combined, these facts tend to rebut the idea that conservatives as people are anti-poor.

That distrust in domestic government power – possibly the definitive trait which distinguishes liberals from conservatives – is itself a very pro-poor stance. Put simply, we believe that the less government does, the less point there is to bribing government officials. Corrupt governments are the tools of the wealthy and powerful, while a limited democratic government is responsive to voters. If a government doesn’t impose onerous regulations, high taxes, or award contracts for various social programs, then there is less for the unscrupulous wealthy to buy, and their money will go elsewhere. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So long as the government has the power to be deeply involved in peoples’ lives and businesses, it will be a logical investment to try to buy favor, and in that game, the poor always lose.

The same fear of bureaucratic corruptibility and ineptitude underlies Republican opposition to government controlled or mandated universal healthcare. Conservatives believe that there is no such thing as “free” healthcare. You pay for it, yes, with taxes, but also with incremental decreases in personal liberty. While government healthcare like that in the UK or Canada seems like a good thing for the poor, in reality, it winds up hurting the poor most of all. Where the government decides who gets treatment, and who doesn’t, and when they are treated, and how well, and how they should live in order to earn that treatment, it leaves those poor enough to depend on it screwed, but rich people will always be able to travel somewhere else where they can pay for what they need – or use their influence to bribe their way to the top of a list. In Europe and elsewhere, it is becoming clear that governments simply can’t afford to provide the same level of treatment to everybody that people are able to get under the current US system, however imperfect. The attempt to impose equality by government force only results in greater inequality, and lesser quality, for all.

Many other conservative policies have explicitly pro-poor facets. Pro-small business policies assist entrepreneurs trying to make a better life for themselves. This means the laundromats, markets, clothing shops and restaurants that you see as the backbones of the inner cities and small towns, the kinds of places which have always been the jumping off point for people chasing the American dream. School vouchers and programs which hold schools accountable to achievement standards have the greatest impact on poor children who can’t afford private education as an alternative to failing public schools. Like it or not, “No Child Left Behind” was motivated by a desire to see inner city schools improve, and closing the performance gap between whites and poor minority students.

Conservative concern abut the Supreme Court isn’t just about abortion, by the way – it’s also about decisions like Kelo v. New London, which lead to the homes, businesses and churches of people who lack the money to influence policymakers being taken for far below market value and given to the highest bidder, on the unaccountable promise that such takings will create new jobs. The disrespect for constitutional property rights manifested in that decision is one of many reasons why Republicans hope that its supporters, Justices Ginsberg, Souter, Breyer, Kennedy and Stevens, will be replaced by strict constructionists in the future. Respect for private property doesn’t just protect those who have much – it also protects those who have little, and value what little they have all the more dearly for it.

Even the conservative emphasis on marriage and the family benefits lower income people. While the GOP’s current obsession with limiting marriage to heterosexuals is deeply misguided, the respect for the institution itself is very important for the poor. The legal benefits of marriage are critical – health coverage, tax breaks, etc. – and these benefits can’t be bought cheaply, when they can be bought at all. From a conservative perspective, the social benefits of a marriage society, as opposed to a culture of cohabitation, are even more important. Say what you will about Maggie Gallagher, her data is solid when she concludes that married people are “happier, healthier and better off financially. The poverty rate for all children in married-couple families is 8.2 percent. By contrast, the poverty rate for all children in single-parent families is four times higher at 35.2 percent. The crime rate among young men from single-parent households is vastly disproportionate, and our prisons are testimony to the damage that the breakdown in the family can cause for generations. Finally, one of the strongest indicators of poverty in women is whether or not she bore a child out of wedlock. While correlation may not be causation, it does just make a kind of sense that single people simply have fewer resources than couples, and that resource disparity hits the poor hardest of all. (By the way, when crime rates rise, tough conservative policies enforcing the law favor poor people, who are disproportionately the victims of violent crimes, and less able to financially recover from property crime.)

Are all of the conservative principles and policies I have discussed consistent and mutually coherent? No. Are these policies exclusively motivated by a desire to do good for the poor, as opposed to, say, garnering votes or satisfying influential constituencies? Of course not. Conservatism, like liberalism, is an ideology created and followed by flawed, limited, complicated human beings who rarely do anything for a single reason. Politics is the art of compromise, with laws passed by legislative bodies made up of many different people with many different priorities, representing even more varied populations. Nothing is ever simple when you’re dealing with people, and it’s a juvenile attitude to expect perfection and purity out of anything… but it is equally juvenile to claim your opposition is motivated by pure cynicism, hostility or self-interest – or in other words, arrogance and stupidity.

I know I have said many controversial things in this entry. Heck, I’m a moderate Republican and a classical liberal, so I’m not sure even I agree with all of it all the time. More than that, I’m very aware that I have not done justice to these arguments, any of which could easily fill a book, pro and con. There are many things we can argue about – in the details, in the methods, in the principles on which conservatives rely. That surprises nobody, and I look forward to having those discussions. But what can no longer be said is that conservatives don’t care about poor people. We do. We just do so differently, and if a love of diversity means anything, it means that such disagreements are good things, because in the conflicts between us, hopefully some truth will be found, and we’ll all be better off.

9 Responses to “Republicans and the Poor – A Conservative’s Perspective”
  1. Matt says:

    Casey, I want to thank you for joining in the debate and composing a well-written argument. I have my doubts over your facts that conservatives give more in charitable donations and volunteerism than liberals, however.

    The facts themselves may be accurate, but I’d be interested in knowing just how much of those “charitable donations” were going to anti-gay church ministries or national or state anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and their various state affiliates. Similarly, I’d be interested in knowing how much of the volunteer work is spent working for such groups.

    Working now with an individual who was a high school teacher in South Carolina, I’m now convinced that “No Child Left Behind” is a bad, misguided law. It may have been created with good intentions but it has had many negative effects. Those inner-city schools which are supposed to be helped by the law are being hurt, as they struggle to improve the all important parental and community involvement needed to increase those test scores, as the money to do such work gets taken away. Further, standardized testing as a whole, is bad for our students. Teachers, who have no time to teach all the material needed for the tests, are ill-equipped to impart all the lessons necessary.

    But, I have begun to believe that school vouchers might be a good alternative. Although I don’t see how the Republican argument for “small government” jives with the creation of just one more social program, I do see that school vouchers could help many low-income families send their children to high-quality, high-cost schools they never could have afforded in three life-times.

    Finally, the “small government” principle of the Republican Party seems to have been one that’s been forgotten by the majority of the GOP’s adherents. In North Carolina, a state that votes Republican in national elections and Democratic in state and local elections, I see many of our military-friendly citizens proudly supporting the Republican President-created Department of Homeland Security and other huge, national agencies and programs that run counter to the message of small, limited government. Seems like an awful big contradiction to me, with Bush’s growth of the Federal government being among the largest since the time of FDR.

    And, finally (I promise this time), I still am not convinced that the Republican Party cares for our low-income Americans. I understand, although do not agree, with your argument regarding universal healthcare, but you did not address President Bush’s cuts in his newly proposed budget. They have nothing to do with universal healthcare; they are cuts in programs that already exist and that provide much needed services to many of America’s low-income children and elderly. In my post, “Republicans hate the poor,” I even used information from Catholic Social Services, an organization with a definitive conservative bend. Medicare and Medicaid aren’t a part of “universal healthcare.” What is the justification for the cut in those services?

    Why are we cutting domestic services that help our low-income citizens, while spending on defense rises dramatically every year? Why are we getting more tax-cuts with these drastic increases in government spending? Do we really want our burden to be on our children’s children’s children? Shouldn’t we pay our own debts, instead of leaving them to generations to come? Why has America, among the wealthiest, most powerful nations in the history of humanity, fallen into such high national debt? Why in recent times does it seem that our high-debt times come only when a Republican is president?

  2. crescentdave says:

    Oh dear, where to start? Pinning your statistics entirely upon Arthur’s book? Failing to distinguish qualitatively and quantitatively where these charitable efforts go? Should we talk about the one billion dollars being funneled through that bastion of republican, fundamentalist, conservatism known as Oral Roberts University? Failing to include corporate sponsored, employee driven charity … evidently Arthur never looked at religious vs non-religious charity channels.

    Should we start with the fact families are “better off” because republicans are directly responsible for the loss (in real dollars) of worker earnings and have presided over the first administration since 1932 to have such a low job growth rate? Of course TWO incomes will be better than one if we’re talking about poverty.

    And let’s do. Let’s do talk about poverty. Under republican administrations: more real poverty for adults and children. More bankruptcies. More debt. Look at Bush’s 2008 budget: slashing all sorts of public funding for the poor, the sick and the aged while continuing to request more funding for an illegal and unjust occupation of Iraq. Why are republicans so “efficient” when it comes to promoting initiatives benefiting the largest corporations and the wealthiest? Gosh.

    We can talk about big government, but then we’d have to talk republican. Bush has presided over the largest government in US history … far larger than Clinton’s. This is a theme among republicans. Run up deficits rather than surpluses, boost the size of government and then accuse democrats of “tax and spend” tactics. It takes a republican to wage a unilateral war while simultaneously cutting taxes for the wealthiest. And please, you’ve had DECADES to prove the “trickle-down” theory would work. It doesn’t. Don’t blame it on post fundamentalist extended families and single parents.

    And such a shock, isn’t it? Seeing the largest increase in the gap between the richest and poorest? What better way to explain this and host of additional ills than using the old bromides of family and marriage as opposed to massive tax cuts for the wealthy, an economic system responsive to the wealthy, a justice system more interested in a crack dealer than a perpetrator of white collar crime and an entire, republican fueled and supported homophobic culture hiding behind the skirts of profit-driven “christianity?”

    There certainly are homophobic democrats. But you want to know something? It really takes a republican to institutionalize that homophobia. Nobody does it better than a republican. Nobody. Look at your republican candidates. Look at their platforms. You cannot spin it. You cannot minimize it. These people don’t like you and they don’t like me. They’re caught up either in ignorance (virgin birth, yes, evolution, no) or a cynical manipulation of the ignorant. All to the detriment of people like me.

  3. Primm says:

    I came I saw and I dont believe I live in a republican state But the city I live in is the only democratic city in the state And they take and take here but give nothing back At one point this city was paying out more in taxes then any other city here And still not getting anything back
    But if you drove around the rest of the state you could see all the new things coming up
    And still nothing here

  4. Leon Foonman says:

    As a rather wealthy conservative Republican, I have to admit that I hate poor people, a lot really. They are a drain on society, always complaining and begging for this or that. They just want to either get free money via taxes or break in to our beautiful homes to steal our belongings.
    What good are they, we can’t really depend on the poor to pay enough in taxes to support the programs that benefit US, the rightful heirs and successful Americans?

    I don’t really have any sympathy for the so-called under-privileged, not at all. They drive junky little cars and wear clothing that looks awful, have no sense of real culture, and many of them are sick, too, and a real burden on the rest of us citizens who take personal responsibility for our own healthcare costs, while they clog up the emergency rooms with their whining and wheezing. I know that most poor people smoke and drink cheap liquor so they are more likely to have chronic illnesses, and of course cost the rest of us a lot of money.

    It’s ridiculous for good conservative Americans to pretend that we really have any sympathy or wish anything but a swift demise for the lower classes.
    If you are honest with yourself, you don’t have to apologize for hating the poor.

    Leon Foonman M.D

    • S. N. says:

      You honestly have nothing better to do with your time than troll? Get a life.

    • Aaron says:

      ah, just like God said -_- seriously Leon? that has to be one of the most ignorant brain dead things i’ve ever seen, and i’ve been to church. Well hey if you believe in God, you’re obviously going to hell. remember “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom” and “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” so have fun burning in Hell which i’m sure you think exists. You hypocritical waste of a brain

  5. Converted Democrat says:

    Casey, it’s great to say that the republicans don’t have the poor. It’s probably true. These are some of my pet peeves that I have since I changed from republican to democrat. I changed after doing a lot of research. When has a republican ever helped the poor/elderly? They have made unkept promises by the dozen but have never followed through on any. Here are a couple of examples how the democrats have helped the poor/elderly.

    Minimum wage increases: As unpopular as it is with the reps we need livable wages for the single person that lost his/her job because their job doesn’t exist anymore. I lost my manufacturing/production job in MA. I was quality control for a wholesale coffee manufacturer. I earned $15 per hour in 2000. I had to start a new entry level job with wages of $8 per hour. Rent in MA is in excess of $1200 per month. What’s wrong with that picture? In MA the minimum wage should not be less than $12.50 per hour just so the single person making minimum wage doesn’t have too live in a shelter. The republican business owners are against minimum wage hikes because if affects their profit. Therefore they charge more for their service or product. Who pays? Everyone including the poor/elderly. How does this help the poor/elderly. It’s always the dems that increase the minimum wage.

    Medicare: The next time you go to a clinic or hospital be sure to thank a democrat for the medicare bill. President Lyndon B. Johnson- democrat passed the 1st medicare bill in the mid 1960’s. Actually there were others before him that tried to pass it without any success. People had the idea that it was going to be too much like Communism. When Hillary Clinton -democrat was running for president 4 years ago one thing that she talked about was a health reform bill. Let’s call it a revised medicare bill. This would be a normal thing to do since the original medicare bill passed 40 years earlier. A lot has changed in 40 years. As it turned out she wasn’t elected but President Obama- democrat had the same idea as she had. That was to revise the medicare bill. The only reason the dems stepped into the picture was so they could say it was their idea.

    National debt: Casey, I challenge you or anyone else to tell me 1 republican that went into office (president) and left office with more money for the U.S. than when they went in. It has never happened. How about the democrats? Every democrat that went into office came out leaving the U.S. with more money than when they started. Yet the news media has been telling the public that the democrats are great spenders. Hogwash. If you don’t believe me look at the charts online.

    The economy: It was President George W. Bush- republican that brought this country to its knees and it will take a great many years, maybe more years than I have left in my lifetime at age 60 now, before it’s straightened out. It will never happen if we get all republicans in office. That’s a fact. All that the republican running mates are doing are making false promises to help the poor. It has never happened in the past and won’t happen now with republicans. A leopard never changes his spots. The dem candidate that republicans don’t seem to like & blame for our poor economy is better than the rep candidate the promises the moon because the dems won’t deliver it.

  6. sassy3000 says:

    Wow! I’ve never read such garbage in all of my life! Republicans DO NOT hate the poor! Why must Liberals forever engage in these BOLD-FACED-LIES?! Are they so afraid of the truth?!
    Fact! Most Republicans ARE Christians and as such, believe in giving PERSONALLY! God ONLY Blesses what we PERSONALLY GIVE! God doesn’t bless taxes morons! So anything TAKEN by the Govt and then distributed to the poor is NOT BLESSED! And most of the money that is allegedly for the “Poor” doesn’t go to them but rather to pet projects for some Politicians Home State! But since Pork is often attached to Bills about helping the Poor or education FOOLS ASS-UME that ALL OF THE MONEY IN THAT BILL is for that. LOL!
    Most Bills ARE IGNORED BY THE PRESS! Well when a Democrat is President! When it’s a Republican they go over the bills with a microscope.
    And studies have shown that Conservatives give an average of 15% MORE to charity then Liberals. But of course Real Christians DO NOT BRAG about helping the poor per Jesus command in Matthew 6:2 :
    “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

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