By Stephen L. Goldstein
Republicans have just discovered poverty and income inequality — a remarkable revelation, considering they have caused so much of it.
The Tea Party GOP has declared Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” a failure. And with the 2014 elections looming, following the advice of their pollsters and word-testers, Republicans are trying to remake themselves as sympathetic and empathetic, instead of apathetic, to the plight of the poor and the middle class.
So in January, just a day after he voted not to allow the Senate to vote on extending unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had the chutzpah to say he was proposing “the most fundamental change to how the federal government fights poverty and encourages income mobility” in 50 years. In “Reclaiming the Land of Opportunity: Conservative Reforms for Combating Poverty,” he rattled off a compendium of political kitsch, a Walmart of social solutions with the impact of anesthesia.
Like all Rubio speeches, this one oozed patriotic platitudes: “The American Dream” is alive and well; we are an “exceptional” country; the free market is God’s gift to the world. In spite of the fact that many of “the working poor” hold two and three jobs, not to mention legions who are unemployed, Rubio declared: “We are still a country where hard work and perseverance can earn you a better life” — spoken like a man who’s worked and persevered to get elected to public office and has had a guaranteed paycheck and perks for going on 12 years.
Summoning up some of that sympathy and empathy, Rubio said he is “troubled” and “bothered” because “many of our people are still caught in what seems to be a pervasive, unending financial struggle.” But he’s not “troubled” and “bothered” enough to be honest enough to make the connection between poverty and failed GOP economic policies.
Instead, he blamed poverty and income inequality exclusively on liberal “government spending” on “failed” federal programs. And, by logic only he can explain, he dismissed the idea of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 because it isn’t “the American Dream.”
But the pièce de résistance of Rubio’s nonsensewas to end poverty by turning “Washington’s anti-poverty programs — and the trillions spent on them — over to the states.” Small-government Marco wants to lump “most of our federal anti-poverty funding into one single agency” and all their money into a “Flex Fund.” Then, those tax dollars “would be transferred to the states so they can design and fund creative initiatives that address the factors behind inequality of opportunity.”
Poor deluded Marco! His “most fundamental change” to fighting poverty in the last 50 years is nothing more than turning all federal programs into “block grants” — a difference of degree, not substance.
Rubio says Washington shouldn’t “tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida” and “what’s right for Tallahassee is [not] the same thing that’s right for” any other state. He also claims “that if states were given the flexibility, they would design and pursue innovative and effective ways to help those trapped in poverty.”
But don’t believe a word of it. Florida’s most recent, homegrown anti-poverty effort — Gov. Rick Scott’s promise of job creation — has been a flop. According to a Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times review of 342 job-creation deals, the governor “pledged $266 million in tax breaks and other incentives in return for 45,258 new jobs. But 96 percent of the jobs have yet to materialize.”
If Tallahassee received a massive infusion of tax dollars to spend as it saw fit, the poor wouldn’t see a dime of it. The governor and Legislature would continue to lavish millions on most-favored businesses because they are supposedly “job creators” — and having a job is key to upward mobility — with the same disastrous consequences.
Rubio’s “most fundamental change to fighting poverty” in 50 years is nothing more than his pandering to states’ rights voters, whose support he wants for his run for president. Rubio may think he’s being sympathetic and empathic. But he’s just pathetic — and self-serving.
Stephen L. Goldstein is the author of “The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit” and “Atlas Drugged: Ayn Rand Be Damned.” He lives in Fort Lauderdale.