Advice from a liberal: 4 things conservatives must do to be taken seriously on poverty

Bill Scher | Senior Writer, Campaign for America's Future

It doesn’t seem fair. Rep. Paul Ryan sticks his neck out to talk about poverty, and gets accused of a “racial attack” by a fellow member of Congress. Then that liberal rag Politico headlines “Is Paul Ryan Racist?”

Meanwhile, nobody played the political correctness card when President Obama launched the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative geared toward helping impoverished boys and men of color. Why is it only conservatives who get attacked for racism when discussing the root causes of poverty?

Well, you conservatives can cry “liberal media,” “political correctness,” and “double standard” all you want. But you may have noticed that you’ve been blaming others for some time and it’s not getting you very far.

Whatever merit your charges may have, the fact remains that conservatives have a perceived credibility problem when it comes to poverty, particularly as it relates to race. Until you take steps to fix it, no speech, interview, or report is going to solve it.

Have no fear! I am a liberal, and I am here to help.

No, I’m not going to say you must renounce conservatism and embrace a slew of Big Government liberal ideas to buy good graces from the liberal media. But if you ever want to convince anybody we can solve poverty on the cheap, you will need to show the public a different face and a different attitude.

Here are four critical steps conservatives can take to earn the credibility they need to be taken seriously on poverty, without dipping into the federal treasury.

1. Attack Racists. A Lot.

Part of your problem is whenever any conservative is accused of racism, your impulse is to defend them on the grounds of political correctness. In other words, you are prioritizing combatting political correctness over ending racism. That’s no way to show you care about ending racism!

Instead, you should become the bounty hunters of racism. You should be scouring right-wing media looking for opportunities to pounce. Whenever a Ted Nugent accuses the Obama administration of instigating a “the power struggle between the different races,” or a Megyn Kelley says that Santa can’t be black, or an Ann Coulter laments the “browning of America,” you should be merciless.

Commence the public shaming. Rush to MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. Pressure advertisers to drop columns by the race-baiters. Demand all Republican Party campaign committees cut off all funding to candidates that appear with any offender. Above all, mean business.

You will be stigmatizing racism in a way that will be effusively applauded and sincerely appreciated, shattering your bad reputation without changing your ideology and policy positions one iota.

2. Stop Pretending The Republican Party Didn’t Used To be Racist.

Another reason why the Republican protestations about race fall flat is they refuse to come clean about their own history, and constantly twist and omit history to claim Democrats are more deserving of the racist label.

Yes, yes, I know, I know. There were segregationist Democrats and progressives. President Woodrow Wilson segregated the federal workforce. Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party turned its back on southern blacks. FDR failed to stand up to the segregationists in his party on an anti-lynching law. There were Southern Democrats who tried to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which most Democrats and Republicans in Congress supported. Yes, until his death in 2010 there was a Senate Democrat named Harry Byrd who once was in the Ku Klux Klan.

But when Republicans rattle off those factoids, and whitewash all of the other ones — about how liberal Democrats eventually won the intra-party battle with the Dixiecrats starting with Harry Truman’s 1948 civil rights package and Hubert Humphrey’s victorious flight to put in the party platform, how Dixiecrats were in league with conservatives like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley to oppose certain civil right legislation, how many of those Dixiecrats became Republicans after the 1964 act passed (whereas Byrd stayed a Democrat and renounced the KKK and his past views) and how Republican leaders then embraced the “Southern Strategy” to win votes based on racist appeals — it reveals an aversion to taking responsibility and making amends.

This is why Sen. Rand Paul was so humiliated with he addressed the students of Howard University last year. He thought he was educating them by noting the NAACP was founded by a black Republican in 1909, but the crowd angrily informed him they were already aware. Paul afterwards appeared surprised: “I learned something, that everybody there knows.”

Yes they do, and they also know the rest of the story: Democrats evolved on race over the course of the 20th century and made amends for their past, while Republicans regressed. Instead of trying to rewrite the book, just accept the past for what it was and start writing your own new chapters.

3. Give Up The Voter ID Nonsense

Nearly ten years ago, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman addressed the NAACP and apologized for the Southern Strategy, or as he put it, “looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization.” But as my 2-year old learns from watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, “Saying I’m sorry is the first step. Then, how can I help?”

The Republican Party never took that second step. Instead, it reverted to form, frantically trying to clamp down on minority voter turnout through stringent voter ID laws and obstacles to early voting.

The strategy completely backfired in 2012, serving only to goad minority voters into making an extra effort to show up. In turn, the 2013 RNC-commissioned “autopsy” implicitly counseled the party to give it up: “This trend in early, absentee, and online voting is here to stay. Republicans must alter their strategy and acknowledge the trend as future reality.”

And yet, in several states Republicans are continuing the obsession with making it harder to vote. This is simultaneously mean-spirited and dim-witted. It’s time for Republicans to take the next step after “sorry,” and find ways to help, not hurt.

4. Find Some Republican Governors Who Will Spend A Lot Of Money On Poverty

If you’ve read this far, I’ll take that to mean I’ve convinced you to own up for past sins, stop repeating past mistakes and make at least the symbolic effort to stigmatize race-baiting. Now comes the hard part; the “how can I help” part.

This would be easy if you were a liberal: you would talk about different ways you would spend federal money to directly alleviate poverty, fattening paychecks through tax credits, raising the minimum wage, creating public works jobs or expanding the social safety net.

You conservatives don’t want to spend federal money; instead, you talk about indirect methods to grow the economy like cutting corporate taxes, suggest reducing federal spending but spending it more wisely, or even better, sending the money out of Washington to the states with little to no strings attached.

Here’s why nobody believes you mean it: you don’t have any state-level Republicans who are free-spending anti-poverty warriors.

For Pete’s sake, you have conservative governors bragging about how they won’t take federal money to expand Medicaid! What do you think those governors are going to do with a fresh pot of federal money when it has no conditions on how it’s used?

If conservatives are sincere about state-driven policy to combat poverty, they better show they have Republican governors and state legislators that are actually good at combatting poverty, which as everyone knows, has to involve spending some money somewhere.

As conservatives like to say, there is no free lunch.

If conservatives do all of the above, they will prove beyond doubt that they are sincere about reducing poverty, even if they disagree with liberals on the best way to do it. No one will ever be able credibly accuse you of racism, even if there is the occasional comment of questionable interpretation, because you will have clearly established your bona fides by excommunicating any race-baiting offenders in your own ranks. Your ideas will get a fair hearing, political correctness be damned, and in all likelihood, Democrats will be probably take the better ones help them become law.

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