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
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.
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
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.