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Wednesday, December 19 , 2018, 3:04 am | Fair 45º


Mark James Miller: Why Republicans Wage War On the Poor

In South Carolina, former Republican Lt. Gov. André Bauer compares feeding the poor to the feeding of animals and suggests it should stop “because they breed.”

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, compares the unemployed to children who refuse to do chores around the house. “We borrow money from China,” he proclaims, “to pay people not to work.”

Former Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, wants children who receive subsidized meals at school to do manual labor in exchange for their food so they will learn “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., pontificates, “If anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

By now it has become a cliché to point out that the Republican Party is waging a war against the poorest citizens of these United States. (Even some Republicans, such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are admitting this).

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is exploring running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has called for the elimination of the minimum wage, citing the discredited conservative dogma that the minimum wage suppresses job creation when in fact the opposite has been proven to be true.

Perennial Republican presidential also-ran Newt Gingrich has long called for the abolition of child labor laws (which he refers to as “truly stupid”) so that children as young as 9 years old from poor families can work as janitors at the schools they attend.

In red state after red state, law after law has been proposed or enacted that punishes, degrades, and stigmatizes poor people for the crime of being impoverished. These range from mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients to a proposed Tennessee law that would reduce welfare benefits to families whose children “fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school.”

Kansas is only the most recent in a long line of Republican-dominated states (23 at last count) to pass laws that would make Ebenezer Scrooge wince. On April 16, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill enacting “some of the country’s strictest prohibitions” on welfare recipients. While some of these restrictions are simply asinine — those receiving welfare can no longer spend their money in tattoo parlors, on cruise ships or on fortune tellers (and few, if any, ever did waste their money that way) — they reflect the conservative mythology that poor people live a comfortable, self-indulgent lifestyle while sponging off the hard-working majority.

The truth is the exact opposite: Studies — as well as common sense — show that impoverished people spend their money on the basic necessities of life. Following Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper “Hierarchy of Needs,” poor people use their scant resources on housing, food and transportation.

A 2014 federal report found that only 1 percent of eight states’ welfare transactions were for “luxuries” or entertainment, findings corroborated by an analysis done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Republicans ignore these facts. They attack the poor by asserting that poverty is a moral failure, that people are poor because they have chosen to be poor.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., refers to the social safety net as a “hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” In this he is seconded by conservative rock star Ted Nugent, who wrote, “being poor is a largely a choice, a daily, if not hourly decision ... We need to punish poor decisions instead of rewarding them” — both reflecting the general Republican attitude toward the poor.

If, then, poverty is actually something that people have chosen, there is a simple solution to it.

“I want to see more Americans step up,” said King, referring to the unemployed. Presumably, the Iowa congressman meant that people who are out of work should just go out and get a job, which will, in the eyes of Republicans, solve the problem. It’s just that easy.

As with most simplistic solutions, it isn’t just that easy. The “just-go-get-a-job” mantra ignores the fact that three-quarters of the people receiving public assistance are either working already or are part of a family in which someone is working. These are people with minimum-wage or near minimum-wage jobs, the pay of which is not enough to lift people above the poverty level.

The truth, which conservatives do not want to admit, is that these people are working, working hard and working long hours, and still do not have enough money to meet the fundamental necessities of life, and so have no other choice but to turn to public assistance for help.

Why do Republicans harbor such intense hatred toward the poorest and most vulnerable of their fellow citizens?

Republicans proclaim a great love of country but in the next breath spew out hate toward anywhere from a third to half of their fellow countrymen and women, from Mitt Romney’s 47 percent who will not “take personal responsibility” to the 100 million Steve King claims “aren’t contributing anything.”

Conservative commentator Neal Boortz likens the poor to “toenail fungus.” Right-wing radio show host Michael Savage refers to people on welfare as “deadbeats” who prefer to stay at home so they can “smoke and drink and fornicate.” Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly says poverty is the result of “irresponsible behavior and laziness.”

The examples go on and on but the question remains: What is behind such hate? On the part of the politicians and pundits, it may be simple divide and conquer tactics, attempting to pit those Americans who are not receiving public assistance against those who do. But beyond cynical Machiavellian political calculation lies something even deeper: Failure.

The poor, especially the working poor, are a daily reminder of the failure of Republican economic policies, policies they have succeeded in imposing on the country since the days of President Ronald Reagan. Deregulate the economy, they say, cut taxes on the rich and on corporations, and we will find ourselves in a conservative nirvana wherein everybody (except the lazy) will either be rich or on their way to getting rich.

It hasn’t worked. Far from taking us to a conservative paradise, the result of these policies has been an enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, while the middle class has been shrunken and squeezed, and the poor have fallen even further into poverty. Large numbers of poor people and the struggle of the middle class are living repudiations of Republican dogma, and rather than admit failure, they blame and scapegoat the victims.

They wage war on the poor.

— Mark James Miller is a teacher and writer, and has been a part-time English instructor at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria since 1995. He is president of the Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, California Federation of Teachers Local 6185, and is an executive board member of the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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