The war against — the war against poverty

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“New in GOP logic: Antipoverty programs worked so well, we must get rid of them,” reads the headline from the Los Angeles Times. A recent report — “Expanding work requirements in non-cash welfare programs” — released last month from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors proposes an unhelpful tactic to support new restrictions on the safety net. The Right’s brain trust now assures us that comprehensive antipoverty programs are no longer necessary because 50 years of such interventions — yes, those same ones long hated, and their effectiveness belittled, by the GOP — have succeeded so spectacularly that poverty is largely a thing of the past.

Mind you, we all expected this phase two of the plan by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the oligarchy — (less so, Donald Trump) — to first give huge tax gifts to the rich and then use the resulting supernova deficits as an excuse to undercut help for the poor.

For the record, many of us who oppose the Fox’d insanity are not dogmatically against finding out what works, efficiently and stopping what doesn’t. Indeed, serious/sober Entitlements Reforms were fully negotiated back in the early 1990s, under Bill Clinton, between moderate Democrats and sane Republican politicians… when such existed. Among the many crimes of Dennis Hastert was driving a stake through the heart of reasonable, negotiated entitlements reform, then burning the body and burying the ashes.

But never mind that. Consider the stunning declaration that “there’s almost no poverty in the U.S. because Great Society programs mostly worked.” This op-ed by Sasha Abramsky takes on the stunning calumny of that disingenuous position, by showing how the problem has not gone away. Currently, approximately one in six Americans subsist below the government’s defined poverty line — $13,000 for a single individual, $24,000 for a family of four. After years of steady decline, homelessness is on the rise. Perhaps half a million people in the U.S. are homeless or in temporary shelter on any given night. Any person of conscience should demand we improve our methods — or find new ones — to erase poverty’s curse.

But I take another tack. “So now you are admitting that the endeavor that was started by the World War II Greatest Generation (who adored Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and carried forward by Lyndon B. Johnson, pushed by labor unions but resisted tooth and nail by generations of Republicans…actually worked well? Despite all your raving and screaming jeremiads, it worked?”

Um, then, who, across our political spectrum, has credibility, right now?

Let me surprise you by saying “not far-lefties.” If the entire right has gone bonkers-corrupt-treasonous-loco, there certainly are some at the opposite extreme who have a peculiar and deeply harmful mania… absolutely never to admit that any reform ever did any good at all. In a puritan fetish that would make Miles Standish proud, they insist that nothing good has come of 70 years of liberal efforts to reduce race and gender prejudice or poverty or to protect the environment.

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Faced with voluminous evidence — e.g. from Steven Pinker (as laid out in his book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress) and Peter Diamandis (Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think) — that our liberal society has achieved great things — for example reducing the fraction of world children who are hungry to the lowest rate in human history and ensuring 90% of kids go to school — their response is volcanic rage.

Their reason? A loopy notion that — were we ever to admit how far we’ve come — good people would feel less incentive to work at the rest of the effort needed, to save the world. It is a patronizingly offensive reflex and a deeply harmful one, when bragging about the effectiveness of liberal reform is exactly how to sell more of it.

And so we have truly entered Bizarro World, where right-wing think tanks extoll the effectiveness of the measures pushed by FDR, Johnson and ML King — hoping thus to end those programs. Meanwhile, far-lefties pour venom at anyone who points to progress achieved by those reformers. I have to ask… who writes this crap?

And what happened to a nation of rational minds, committed to pragmatic, ongoing progress?

Author, scientist, public speaker. My books include The Transparent Society, The Postman, Earth, Existence, and Startide Rising.

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